by Paul Rignell
A new era has started for Zimmerman students in the fine arts.
Resulting from a bond referendum that school district voters approved two years ago, Zimmerman’s high school and middle school campus has grown with new classrooms but also more notably with a performance stage and auditorium – the first such space for this community.
Before this winter, including as recently as late 2016, Zimmerman’s music and theater programs needed to use other area venues for presenting their public concerts and performances. For example, choir director Amy Herfindahl and her students crossed Fourth Street each December to present their holiday concerts in the sanctuary at Christ Our Light Catholic Church. In addition this past December, theater students from Zimmerman’s high school and middle school and also Westwood Elementary School worked together on a production of “A Christmas Carol” but they needed to move their sets 10 miles south to Zabee Theater at Elk River High School.
More frequently through the years, Zimmerman’s student bands, choirs and other groups welcomed the public to performances in the same room where students eat their lunches each day – the “cafetorium,” as it was known.
Zimmerman’s real auditorium is now finally open for rehearsals and performances. One major upcoming show will be the high school production of “The King and I” with presentations set for Friday, April 28, through Sunday, April 30.
Some community members attended a grand opening event for the Zimmerman auditorium March 2, where they enjoyed a short preview of some music from “The King and I” along with other band and choral music and a bit of comedy.
After those previews, three Zimmerman faculty members who have given many hours to teaching these students in the fine arts spoke with joy about the new auditorium.
The directors expect that their audiences will be significantly larger. The auditorium certainly has the seating to accommodate big crowds.
Supportive friends and family members always showed up for performances in the “cafetorium” but it was common for as many as 150 guests to have to stand throughout a concert, said middle school band director Shannon Curtis.
“It was always very uncomfortable,” he said, adding that an audience never got the best sound experience in that room due to its poor acoustics. “Our students are always well-prepared,” Curtis added. “It just wasn’t fair to them and their accomplishments to perform there. … A surprising number of schools still operate in similar conditions.”
Theater director Jon Palashewski says public attendance could have been larger in the converted lunch space for shows, but frankly the seating problems kept some interested people on their couches at home.
“We have had community people state that they would not attend because of the poor seating, sound and lights (there),” Palashewski said.
Those were not the room’s only concerns.
“Because we have not had a real stage, we (did) have … issues with securing sets properly and have had set pieces falling,” he added.
The future is brighter, along with the lights in the new auditorium.
“We have assigned areas where students can build and design set pieces, props and costumes,” Palashewski said. “We have a playing space with excellent acoustics and sound and lights in which to enhance our performances.”
Herfindahl said guests will find the sound and visuals to be infinitely better in the auditorium.
“We have a space that reflects the pride we take in our fine arts … here at Zimmerman,” she said. “We train our (students) to perform at their utmost levels and we finally have a performance venue that aptly shows that to the audience.”
“All of the sound and lighting technology is top of the line,” Curtis agreed. “We are fitted with equipment that will serve us well and last a very long time.
“As a community we are so lucky to have this equipment and to be supported as we are,” he added.
Bond money from the referendum in 2014 also funded a new auditorium in the southern end of the district at Rogers.
“The voters in our district who supported these builds and upgrades … have made a colossal impact on our students,” Curtis said. “Our students are constantly inspired and excited to get on stage and just to come to our (also new) band room every day.”
“I am so thankful that our community is supporting students in the arts so that they can learn, grow and prepare for their futures in this way,” said Palashewski, who is deep into rehearsals with his cast for “The King and I.”
“I really hope much of the community can come and experience our dramatic productions to get just a taste of what this means to our present and future students,” he said.
Other spring events in the new auditorium will feature public concerts on three consecutive Mondays including a middle school and high school choir concert May 8, a middle school band concert May 15 and a high school band concert May 22.