Three years ago, Schenectady High School students performed “Ragtime” without a curtain in a deteriorating auditorium.
In March, they will finally be able to enjoy a completely renovated auditorium.
The curtain was the last straw for the old stage. After that experience, students squeezed their plays and musicals into the Black Box Theater, which can only hold about 200 people, rather than run another show in the auditorium.
It meant losing audience members — the auditorium can seat 1,000 — but the auditorium was simply unusable, music teacher David Gleason said. The seats were in poor condition. Some of the lights didn’t work. The sound system was dying.
“You would have all those parents come in there, and you could barely see what was going on or hear it, that’s how bad it was,” he said. “Then no curtains. It was a disaster.”
To avoid the auditorium, orchestra concerts were held in the cafeteria, at other schools and on the stage in Central Park.
“We just went everywhere we could. There’s few places that can fit an orchestra,” he said.
Teachers held out hope for renovations in the multiyear high school construction project, but there wasn’t enough money to do the auditorium, they were told. So they decided to raise the money themselves.
They held a concert, enlisting even teachers who hadn’t played in years. They sold “seats,” making plaques to go on seats that were repaired with the donor’s money.
But it wasn’t enough; it wasn’t even close to the amount the auditorium needed.
“See and hear, that was No. 1,” Gleason said. “It was like, we’re a school of fine arts, and this is what we have?”
Then the high school construction project finished last year with money to spare. Those funds, plus the amount the teachers had raised, were enough to transform the auditorium.
A professional sound system was installed, along with new LED lights and a projection booth. An acoustic shell and a portable dance floor were purchased. And of course, the auditorium got new curtains. The room was repainted, and the stage floor was redone.
There was even enough money for seats.
“The architect found someone who could reupholster and repaint,” Gleason said. “In a way, they’re better than new, because they’re that really solid wood.”
The auditorium will be unveiled March with a gala concert featuring the orchestra, band, jazz groups and piano. It will be called the performing arts center, but Gleason calls it Proctors Lite. “When we took the first students in there, they said, ‘I can’t believe we get to perform here,’ ” he said.
The spring musical, “Hairspray,” will be the first musical to christen the new space.
Next year, there will be many more performances.
“There will be new events,” he said. “There’s talk of a jazz festival. The possibilities are endless at this point.”