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Advocating for Better Performance Spaces

  • 1.  Advocating for Better Performance Spaces

    Posted 09-20-2022 11:16
    Hello from Texas, everyone!

    I'm a first-year Middle School Theatre teacher on a probationary certificate, taking over a program from the previous teacher who had taught here for 25 years before I came in. And when it comes to the program I've inherited...

    I'm kind of between a rock and The Bad Place.

    I acknowledge that the school is undergoing a lot of issues. When the tornadoes ripped through Dallas-Fort Worth back in 2019, they ripped down a neighboring middle school, and all of the students from that school were brought over here, along with all of their equipment. In some ways, that's great - shelving came where we never had shelving before, they brought along some new instruments for band, etc. But then come the other problems: Namely, crowding.

    The tornadoes were around 3 years ago now, and it seems that the other middle school will never be rebuilt. That's fine, but if that's the case, then either the kids from that school need to be split further among more neighboring schools, or we need to expand. They're staggering lunches in nonsensical ways that lead to some of my class periods being longer than others, and others being far too short. In addition, there have been several principals over the past few years, with the current one starting a few days after I did. I understand and acknowledge that the school has a lot of plates spinning, and theatre seems to be one of the least important. 

    Our auditorium has been used as a storage space for books from around the school. They're all in the back of the house, not blocking any aisles, but it's a major mess. In addition, the house's flooring is missing. It's stripped down to the polished concrete, and even though my mentor teacher, who is the Chair of Fine Arts, has been requesting new flooring for a few years now, nothing has happened. In addition, the audience seating is half-broken. The chairs are supposed to spring back up, but they haven't been, so audience members (mainly parents) would be slamming their shins into seats that they can't see. Then, we get down to the stage...

    There is a circle of varnish completely missing. The wood underneath is completely bare, and because it isn't varnished, it has begun chipping off, which is a safety hazard. Again, appeals for help go unanswered. The overhead light bars don't seem to be counterweighted - the "fly system" sort of seems to just be a crank backstage left. I'm terrified of touching it because I don't want a hundred pounds of lights to come crashing down just because I wanted to adjust something. Then there's the catwalk access, or lack thereof. It is a free-standing A-frame ladder that you climb up, then a simple iron ladder bolted into the wall... without a cage or harness... then once you get to the top, you have to step backwards OVER the gap that you just climbed up, then you're on the "catwalk", which is essentially just a bunch of parallel beams about 30 feet above the stage. It's enormously unsafe, and I refuse to go up there until it's made safer. I actually got the principal in there to look through it with me, and he was horrified at the very clear violation there, but that was a few weeks ago and so far, I haven't noticed any significant progress being made, if any at all. I also can't access the overhead floods, because they're allegedly accessed through this one area that I mentioned to Admin, which was promptly locked off without giving me a key.

    Lastly, the scheduling issues. They have far over-filled all of the Band classes, so often, Band needs to have class on the stage, but that usually means that my students can't be on the stage. It's supposed to be under my jurisdiction, but I don't want to completely and totally screw over Band by using the stage all day, every day.

    What do I do here? I'm completely unconfident in my ability to make this space rehearsal-ready, much less performance-ready. But apparently I need a fall show, or else I lose out on my MS Theatre teacher stipend. I got in touch with the District Theatre director, and he essentially told me that the best plan was to put on the best show I can, and basically approach Admin with a "Look what I can do with what I have. Imagine what I could do with what I want." I think this is a good plan, but I can also imagine a world in which they just decide "Wow, look what he did! Looks like he didn't need those fixes at all!"

    Dalton Glenn