Outdoor stage goes from holiday wish to New Year’s solution

Lowe’s to provide funding, expertise, but community needed for old-school barn raising to put fine arts programs back on spring performance mode

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Dave Winter

MacTheatre turned the tennis courts into an outdoor theater on Dec. 11 as seniors Helena Laing and Emma Wallace helped dance director Natalie Uehara leading dance auditions for the spring musical, Urinetown. “It was a little harder than normal because we didn’t have mirrors and it got dark very quickly,” Zoll said of the outdoor auditions. “We all were very excited and made it work by using the flashlights on our phones to see. … “I was so glad to get back and see everyone,” Zoll said. “I have missed performing live theatre more than anything during this pandemic, and I was so glad we are able to start safely performing again.” The theatre program took a big step toward performing the spring musical when fine arts parents secured a partnership with Lowe’s to provide resources and expertise to build the stage.

Thanks to a new grant from the Lowe’s Heroes program, the outdoor stage at McCallum has gone from being a hopeful goal to a concrete reality.

After the second meeting between the parents working on the outdoor stage initiative, Mac parent Shaneye Ferrell decided to apply for a grant from Lowe’s. 

Ferrell, the mother of junior theater major Grace Hickey, originally reached out to Lowe’s for the partnership and has since built a team of parents dedicated to building a safe venue for kids to practice and perform.

“I did initially reach out to Lowe’s, but it was a group effort,” Ferrell said. “Nicole Wayman, a dance major parent, is another parent who has been leading us and Weston Blaney is a parent of a technical theatre major,  who drew the architectural plans for the stage. The renderings were a huge help in getting everyone behind the project.”

This rendering of the outdoor stage shows its possible use as a venue for dance or theatre shows. Other renderings show the space as a venue for visual art exhibitions, for regular class meeting and for guest speakers. Junior theatre major Grace Hickey is excited for the opportunities the space would bring. “With … this [the outdoor stage], we might have the opportunity to do some real, in-person performing,” Hickey said. Renderings by Symbiotech Design. (Symbiotech Design)

As interim principal Nicole Griffith understands it, the grant covers the costs of the barebones of the stage. 

“The grant will cover most of the costs: things like lighting and other stage acoustics will be later, but the barebones of the stage will be completed,” Griffith said. “Lowe’s is also bringing out a crew to build it. The crew will be out there for two days. It will kind of be like an old-fashioned barn raising where we ask for volunteers to come and just help us build this thing.”

The term barn raising refers to the Amish practice, which dates back to colonial America, when members of a community come together to build a barn while at the same time establishing the principle of mutual aid. The principale for the outdoor stage is the same even what is being built is not a barn. 

Originally, the stage was a bit of a pie-in-the-sky sort of idea. I thought it would be really cool to get it done, but I wasn’t sure. Now it feels like ‘this is going to happen.’”

— interim principal Nicole Griffith

With this grant from Lowe’s to McCallum, the outdoor stage has overcome the biggest obstacle in its way: funding. Before securing the partnership with Lowe’s, the creation of the stage was entirely contingent on the success of parent fundraising to buy all the materials needed to produce a large-scale stage.

The grant from Lowe’s has pushed the outdoor stage project from holiday wish list to certain New Year’s resolution.

Ferrell believes that though the road has been paved toward the desired destination, there is still much work to be done, and it’s going to take a group effort.

She invites anyone who would like to help with the construction process, regardless of experience. 

 “We are going to be asking for donations to finish the stage out properly,” Ferrell said. “We also need parent volunteers who have experience with construction to help out with the build.”

The priority for Ferrell, Griffith, and the other parent leaders is safely getting the stage up so that McCallum performers will have an opportunity to resume doing what they love. 

“We are going to have an outdoor stage,” Griffith said. “Originally, the stage was a bit of a pie-in-the-sky sort of idea. I thought it would be really cool to get it done, but I wasn’t sure. Now it feels like ‘this is going to happen.’”

Interim principal Nicole Griffith principal set up a trial run of the outdoor classroom initiative on Oct. 20. The initiative is a new teaching option she has been developing in partnership with @familiesinnature, that has allowed some teachers and students to be outside when learning. The risk of catching COVID-19 is lessened when you are outside, while still social distancing and wearing a mask. “I think that we thought this would be more temporary then it is and so we were putting Band-Aids on how to get through this,” Griffith said. “We’re coming to the realization that this is going to continue and so now it’s how do we really adjust.” (Dave Winter)

The original idea for an outdoor stage was conceived by a group of McCallum parents at an October meeting hosted by Griffith to discuss outdoor learning initiatives. 

“We had all these folks come to this meeting, and I introduced the idea of ‘why not be creative?’ and ‘let’s take our learning outside at this time for folks who would like too,’” Griffith said. “We then divided into different groups based on where people wanted to put their interests. From there, the group that met for the stage organized themselves and took off.”

Having the opportunity to perform one last time will be an amazing way to end our journey at McCallum and on Blue Brigade.”

— senior Matthew Vargas

One of the first things this group worked on was creating a presentation about the outdoor stage. The presentation, Ferrell said, was instrumental in making the case to Lowe’s for the grant.

Griffith sees the outdoor stage as a way for different fine arts to carry out their final performances, the synthesis of their time, effort and practice. 

“For fine arts, the culminating activity is important,” Griffith said. “Just like in sports, you don’t want to just practice, you want to have the game. With no stage or place to do the thing you want to do, but needs to be done outside, it’s just such a bummer. So this is a way for us to have a space where students can showcase their talents.” 

Griffith isn’t the only person excited for the plethora of opportunities the outdoor stage presents to McCallum’s artists. Senior Addie Seckar-Martinez, a co-captain of the McCallum Blue Brigade, is excited for the chance to have a space where the Brigade’s annual spring show can be carried out.

“I am so excited that we will have a chance to end our year with a spring show,” Seckar-Martinez said. “Obviously a lot of events have been cancelled, but we are all so grateful to be able to dance together, have practices and now be able to have an outdoor spring performance.”

Decked out in costumes to celebrate Halloween, Blue Brigade co-captains Addie Seckar-Martinez and Matthew Vargas led the Brigade in practice on the football field on Oct. 29. Later in the season, the Brigade practiced on the tennis courts as well.  The pandemic forced the Blue Brigade to start fall practices late and to have fewer halftime shows than a normal year, but Seckar-Martinez is determined to focus on the positive.  “I am so excited that we will have a chance to end our year with a spring show,” Seckar-Martinez said. “Obviously a lot of events have been cancelled, but we are all so grateful to be able to dance together, have practices and now be able to have an outdoor spring performance.” (Dave Winter)

Mathew Vargas, the other Blue Brigade co-captain and a fine arts dance major, shares Seckar-Martinez’s excitement.

Being able to be someone else for an hour and a half is so beautiful, and I hope I get to do it again soon.”

— senior assistant director Amelie Chaouat

“I think having the opportunity to perform one last time will be an amazing way to end our journey at McCallum and on Blue Brigade,” Vargas said. “It will be bittersweet, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.” 

The outdoor stage also opens the door for McCallum Theatre’s spring musical, Urinetown, to have a concrete place to perform.

“The outdoor stage gives me hope for the show,” senior assistant director Amelie Chaouat said. “I just want the best for all the performers since they’re extremely talented. I do miss the energy, and the feeling I get while performing. Being able to be someone else for an hour and a half is so beautiful, and I hope I get to do it again soon.”

Griffith doesn’t see the usage of the outdoor stage ending when COVID does. 

“We can see an end in sight for COVID,” Griffith said, “so now, we’ve been talking more about the sustainability of having an outdoor stage and what we can use it for in more regular times. Maybe Fridays at lunch we will have bands that will set up. We have such a talented student body, so to be able to showcase their work in another setting is just so exciting.”