Looking Back: Newtown High Stretches Out in Renovated Auditorium

Newtown High School’s performing arts community was undismayed by the challenge of producing three plays in temporary venues during the year-long renovation of their 13,700 square-foot auditorium. Since the completion of the $3.75 million renovation, Newtown High was produced plays and musicals such as The Crucible, Les Misérables, and the upcoming Mary Poppins. We recently checked in to see how this ambitious group of students and teachers has been experiencing the space.

Jane Matson, NHS Choral Director and director of Les Misérables, decided to celebrate the new auditorium by producing “something epic and grand, something beautiful in its music and inspiring in its message.” (It also happens to be the musical that prompted Janice Gabriel, Theater Arts Teacher and auditorium manager, to pursue a theater career.) Matson noted that Les Mis depicts characters “who suffer unimaginable loss yet move on with strength and dignity…who endeavor to make the world a better place,” which, coupled with its technical difficulty, is inspiring for the community and enriching for students. New production possibilities opened by our renovation to the space provided a properly stretched canvas on which the students imparted their talent, empathy, drive, and intellect in order to share an earnest, wholehearted moment with the community.

Janice Gabriel noted that the space works wonderfully now, and she is thankful to Nextstage for answering questions regarding equipment use and best practices promptly in order to smooth the initial year of use. Janice relates “You all have been such a wonderful partner for us, and I have truly enjoyed our partnership and personally enjoyed your friendship and guidance!”


Nextstage Design collaborated with Smith Edwards McCoy (now QA+M Architecture) to renovate the 1970s-era auditorium. We re-sloped the auditorium floor, reseated the auditorium for 950, and created parterre seating areas at the rear and sides of the auditorium to improve sightlines and comfort, improve access for wheelchair users, and foster a more intimate and supportive environment for the student performers. We updated the lighting systems, allowing the school to add LED units and providing LED cyc lights to be used for rich coloring of the new seamless cyclorama. We added a follow spot perch above the control room (previously a scaffold had to be built for each light, and the units hauled up into position for the annual musical). A double purchase counterweight rigging system was installed using Thern “Brickhouse” arbors and rope locks, providing a training opportunity for students under the supervision of Gabriel. The new LED house lighting can provide ample light for note-taking or can be dimmed for watching video presentations.

These improvements have transformed the auditorium and allowed it to assume a larger role in the life of the school and community.

Crisp, Full-Bodied Acoustics with a Clean Finish: Final Testing at Penn State

Recently a few hundred people were invited to spend a pleasant afternoon in the nearly complete School of Music recital hall at Penn State and serve as the audience for acoustic testing and tuning. Since the presence and size of an audience affects the acoustics of the recital hall, they were a critical part of the process.

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USITT Architecture Commission Tour

Tony signed himself and me up for the USITT Architecture Commission theater tours on Tuesday March 13, 2018. It was a long but rewarding day. Many thanks to David Vieira of WJHW and Richard Heisenbottle of RJHA for organizing and leading the tour, and the generous venue staffs for opening their doors to us.

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Theater Planning

Nextstage Design is pleased to announce the publication of Theater Planning by cofounder Gene Leitermann. This new book was developed out of the planning courses Gene teaches at Yale School of Drama and is informed by his more than 30 years of professional practice.

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Daylight in Auditoriums

Many pre-modern theaters were dependent on daylighting. This was obviously true of open air theaters—the theaters of ancient Greece and Rome, Japanese Noh theaters, Taoist temple theaters, the Spanish corrales de comedias, the public playhouses of Elizabethan England, and so on. Daylight was also the principal source of illumination in some indoor theaters, including the private Elizabethan playhouses.

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Conference Season Wrap-up

Nextstage attended several performing arts conferences this summer. An alphabet soup of organizations from TCG, to SCUP, to NATEAC. Conferences are our chance to check the pulse of performing arts among the practitioners at Theater Communications Group (TCG), campus planners at Society of College and University Planners (SCUP), and architects, engineers, and other theater planners at the Quadrennial North American Theater Engineering and Architecture Conference (NATEAC).

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TCG Annual Conference

I just returned from the TCG annual conference in Cleveland, Ohio where I re-connected with many colleagues from my time there at Great Lakes Theater and Playhouse Square. Playhouse Square is now a vibrant urban center of arts, tourism, commerce, and residential real estate.

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