By CORRIE PELC
Christian Brothers High School is about to break ground on a $6.6 million performing arts center and hired a new theater arts director to help build up the program.
According to school president Lorcan Barnes, on April 4, Christian Brothers will break ground on a 350-seat, state-of-the-art performing arts center, scheduled to open in spring 2014. The building is part of the school’s Building on the Tradition Campaign Phase 2, the first part of which was a $4.5 million field house that was opened in November 2008.
The auditorium in the center features an acoustic space designed with the primary goal of not getting in the way of performers, says Ron Slabbinck, director of media, visual and performing arts for Christian Brothers. “If there’s a student on stage, they will be able to be seen and heard,” he says.
And it also features a “fully advanced state-of-the-art theater structure,” Slabbinck says, including sound and lighting booths, catwalk, and dressing rooms and full scene and set shop behind the stage. “(It has) everything you would want in a theater space — it will be the envy of pretty much any high school in the area with its features and design,” he adds.
Slabbinck says the center will also include a band classroom and choral classroom, plus gallery space for showcasing visual arts that have been incorporated into the lobby and throughout the theater. “We have students who are absolutely incredible artists, performers, and creators that they will finally have a place that will frame their talents in such a beautiful way,” he says. “We have amazing kids and they deserve a space like this.”
To help build the theater program at Christian Brothers, the school recently brought on board Connor Mickiewicz, its new theater arts director, who started this past August.
Mickiewicz says the theater program this year began with a “Theater 101″ type class with about 30 students, many of whom had never performed before. However, he says the response from students to the class has been very positive. “From where we started in August to what they’re doing now with their scene work and monologues, I’ve seen improvement — it’s pretty magical to see them grow as artists,” he explains.
Additionally, students have been taking part in theatrical productions this year. In the fall, students performed a production of “Godspell,” and Mickiewicz and his students are currently working on a production of the 1930s comedy “You Can’t Take it With You,” which will be performed April 18, 19, 25-27.
While the performing arts center is under construction, the students’ productions are held at New Helvetia Theatre at 10th and R Streets. Mickiewicz founded New Helvetia Theatre in 2009, where he acts, directs, and produces.
Slabbinck says students have been very receptive to Mickiewicz and how he teaches and directs theater, and having him on board plus the building of the new performing arts center has helped created a “buzz” on campus and stir student interest in the theater program. “We have more students engaged and involved in auditioning for theater productions than I have seen in probably eight years,” he adds. “I think this year has been highly successful — I think it’s upward and onward from here.”
Mickiewicz says since the theater will be larger, more kids can be involved with performing arts. Additionally, he says students will have an opportunity to learn technical theater, such as lighting, sound and set design, “which very few kids have an outlet to do,” he adds.
As the theater program grows, Slabbinck would like to see it become a four-year curricular program with a branch for performance and a branch for technical theater. “If someone lives in the Sacramento area and they think about visual, media and performance arts on the high school level, the first school that comes to their mind should be Christian Brothers — that’s my vision for where this all leads,” he says.