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Renovated high school auditorium is tops

At a School Buildings Committee meeting last month, committee member Alan Wilensky called Waterford High School's auditorium a "premier" venue in southeastern Connecticut.

A lot of people agree with him. The 30-year-old, newly renovated space has gained a reputation in the area as "state of the art," even eliciting some comparisons to professional theaters and college and university venues.

The auditorium has drawn in talent including the New London Community Orchestra, "Kite Runner" author Khaled Hosseini, and actor Anthony Rapp, who appeared in "Rent" on Broadway, according to auditorium manager Shane Valle.

"This is one of the largest high school auditoriums that I've ever seen," said Gus Kotait, O&G Industries project manager. The district contracted with O&G for construction of the new high school.

Kotait added that after the renovations, the auditorium also boasts "the most sophisticated features that I've ever seen" in a high school auditorium.

Renovations include new lighting and sound systems and a newly mechanized rigging system, among other changes.

"Cosmetically is where most of the audience members would see the difference," said Valle.

The burgundy walls used to be a combination of white and grey, he said.

The cost of the renovations is hard to disaggregate from the $67 million spent on rebuilding the whole school, according to Kotait.

The venue is around 800 square feet, excluding balcony seating, according to Valle. It has a seating capacity of 1,200, which he said is often times more than any school event would need. By comparison, the Garde Theater in New London seats 1,450.

Broadway Kids & Company Director Kristin Burrows went to Waterford High for the company's rehearsals and performances of "Shrek, the Musical" last week.

"The reason I want to use it is, I'm a Waterford resident it's a beautiful stage," she said. "It's beautiful, it's big, it's spacious, it has beautiful back stage opportunities."

She said she also considered the Garde but found Waterford High to be a more economical alternative, though the cost of renting it out can still burn a hole in the wallet.

"In comparison, they're both beautiful theaters, but I think that the high school is a lot more convenient to be at for people because of the parking situation and, you know, being in Waterford," she said.

Wilensky, who has been involved in theatrical productions for over 30 years, is careful to distinguish the auditorium from a theater.

"Technically, it's a hearing place and it's used as a like a lecture hall as opposed to when you put on a production," he said.

Valle noted that most professional theaters would not have concrete walls like the auditorium does. New acoustical panels and curtains on the walls prevent sound from bouncing.

Wilensky contends that the space is still in the top of its class.

"If you look around southeastern Connecticut, certainly at public facilities like schools, I believe that our auditorium in size, capacity and production equipment is one of the best in the region," he said.



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