Curtain rises on Issaquah High School Theater

November 1, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

Theater manager Marty Kelly-Peterson (left) and district construction coordinator Royce Nourigat discuss the finer points of Issaquah High School’s new theater. By Tom Corrigan

On this day, a little more than a week before the first public event is scheduled to take place, a few workers still are putting final touches on the new, 600-seat Issaquah High School Theater.

Overall, the theater was about 97 percent finished, said Royce Nourigat, district construction coordinator. Both he and theater manager Marty Kelly-Peterson said there would be no problem in having the space ready for its inaugural evening, a concert featuring the district’s Evergreen Philharmonic slated for Nov. 5. The orchestra consists of musicians from schools across the Issaquah School District.

Orchestra Director Doug Longman said he is pleased to be putting on the first event in the theater, a facility he said would be the envy of many universities. A concert might be an appropriate first event, as Kelly-Peterson said the theater features “amazing” acoustics among other attributes.

For one thing, Kelly-Peterson said that while the theater comes complete with a wireless microphone system, speakers or performers could appear on the main stage minus any electronic amplification and be heard in the back of the auditorium. Further, that stage can be transformed into an orchestra shell, improving the theater’s acoustics even more.

“It’ll send the sound right out to the audience,” Kelly-Peterson said.

Moving on to what he clearly feels is another of the new theater’s most notable attributes, Kelly-Peterson said the theater presents some outstanding lighting opportunities.

Scaffolding and catwalks crisscross above the stage. Kelly-Peterson said in many theaters, high, potentially dangerous ladders would be used to reach the overhead lighting. The catwalks render such ladders unnecessary in this case.

There is, of course, more lighting set up on the sides and rear of the theater. The side spotlights sit on balconylike spaces. Kelly-Peterson noted during a December production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” the high school’s first drama production in the theater, a lone violin player will take to one of those balconies in at least one scene.

Kelly-Peterson also showed off a touch-screen computer control for the house lighting, altering the color of back lighting on the sides of the theater to every basic shade of the spectrum.

Turning to yet another feature of the new theater, Kelly-Peterson pointed out the runwaylike areas on either side of the stage, areas that can supply a nice spot for smaller scenes. If needed, a lid can be placed over the orchestra pit adding more area to the front of the stage.

“It’s very cool for interacting with the audience,” Nourigat said.

If you go

Evergreen Philharmonic season premiere

  • Special appearance by the Middle School Honors Orchestra
  • Featuring music from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’
  • 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5
  • Issaquah High School Theater, 700 Second Ave. S.E.
  • 4$8 adults; $5 students and seniors, tickets available at the door

Besides the lighting catwalks, hanging above the stage are numerous different curtains and backdrops. Depending on the lighting, at least one can look transparent or be used to show shadows for special effects, such as during a dream sequence.

Regarding the orchestra pit, the acoustics are such that two or three students working in the pit can easily be heard throughout the theater. The space appears small from above, but Kelly-Peterson said some 70 musicians already have practiced together in the pit. Drapery on the walls and hanging off to the sides can add or subtract to the sound pouring out of the pit.

Both Nourigat and Kelly-Peterson said several times that the theater is meant to benefit the entire school, not just the performing arts department. For example, Nourigat said large projection screens could be lowered to display graphics during lectures or talks. In fact, he said they already have been used as such during presentations to students by visiting college recruiters. Nourigat said the theater also hosted a movie during the high school’s recent Homecoming.

Kelly-Peterson further added that the theater would be open to use by community groups during the next school year.

The overall theater area includes several choir practice rooms and a smaller black box theater. The latter is pretty much what it sounds like: a boxlike room that can be used for small productions, such as one-act plays, as classroom space or pretty much for whatever.

“It’s a completely flexible space,” Kelly-Peterson said.

He further noted the new choir practice rooms were very welcome. Again, he said, the acoustics are very much improved over what the school had previously.

“You lose all those high, bright sounds with normal walls and carpeting,” he said.

Going back to the design phase, Nourigat said the district has been working on the performing arts space at IHS for about four years.

“The place is just brimming with potential,” Kelly-Peterson said.

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