Saxe project drives arts reinvestment
NEW CANAAN — When driving by Saxe Middle School on South Avenue, New Canaan residents can see the fruits of the three-year-long Saxe Middle School building project in the form of a new wing jutting out on the left side of the school.
But what residents don’t see is the $18.6 million expansions and renovations inside the school, namely the new Saxe Middle School auditorium. Prior to its opening in October, the auditorium had been closed for three years due to PCB in the paint, according to Alan Sneath, director of visual and performing arts for the district. But now, Saxe students can take advantage of the new auditorium, whether they’re into film, music or performing arts.
“There’s different aspects because we haven’t been here in three years,” Sneath said. “We haven’t been able to expand programming.”
Sneath said the new facilities have a number of new amenities, such as a projection screen, which allows students from different departments to come in and use the theater. Sneath said there are already talks of using the screen to display student-made stop-motion animation films or student artwork. Sneath said he’s also looked into students using the new facilities to present compositions they make in the music tech classes or to learn to do lighting, sound or filming for stage productions.
“We’re looking at other programming as far as bringing in kids and exposing them,” he said.
It’s part of a movement across the district to help improve performing facilities. On Jan. 24, the district approved its $90 million operating budget for next year, which includes $22,642 for an auditorium lighting/sound specialist. The specific details of the position and the number of hours one might work are not yet set.
“I’ve always wanted a tech director or manager who oversees all aspects of lighting, sound and rigging,” Sneath said. “We need someone here 24/7 to make sure our investments stay in place.”
According to Sneath, the position would require someone with a theater background who has worked in lighting and sound design. The budget says the role would be a paraprofessional position and reclassify the auditorium manager role into one that requires specialized knowledge to utilize the new equipment at the high school and middle school facilities, as well as increase rental opportunities and preserve the equipment.
The current auditorium manager works within school hours, but the new proposed position would be a swing shift as needed and would assist with productions and events held in the middle and high school auditoriums.
The approved capital budget also proposes changes made to the facilities at the high school in the form of a $120,000 upgrade of the lighting and sound systems.
“The facility is used nonstop,” Sneath said. “We’re looking to develop a long-term vision for the high school.”
Parents of students in the high school theater program have said they’d like to see the upgrades made at Saxe done to the high school.
“We have a phenomenal program, and now that Saxe is complete, I believe the attention needs to turn to the high school auditorium and the town needs to finally address some of the issues that have existed for at least four years, since I became a theater parent,” said Connie Piotroski, whose daughter is a senior at New Canaan High School and participates in the theater program.
The high school auditorium, which seats 975, is used for four high school productions in a year, a fact not lost on theater parents. Many theater parents have said they’ve especially noticed the shortcomings in the audio system, which sometimes goes out during student performances.
“The strengths are we have a theater space, the weakness is that it has needed updating for years,” Piotroski said. “Our sound system has been a problem for as long as I have been a theater parent. Everyone puts their heart and soul into the productions, from the kids to the director, and work through many hours of rehearsals in order to put on a fantastic show for the audiences. Hence, when we have technical difficulties like not being able to hear them speak or sing during their moment, it is very heartbreaking.”