by Heather Reinhart
“When I sit, you sit. When I kneel, you kneel. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!” — The King of Siam
Hundreds took a seat in the new auditorium at Zimmerman Middle/High School for last weekend’s three performances of the high school musical “The King and I.” It was the first big performance in the new facility, which held its public grand opening in March.
The theater, which seats 604, is a dramatic improvement from the lunchroom “cafetorium” stage that had been used for the previous decade or more. This time, the seats were comfortable and there was true stage lighting, enough room for proper sets, a great sound system and a fly (hoist) system to manage items like curtains, lights and set pieces quickly, quietly and safely.
“This was just a load of difference,” drama director Jon Palashewski said. “It’s exactly what we wanted when we were pursuing the plans. It’s constructed in such a way that every seat feels close to the stage. It definitely has the feeling of being smaller and more intimate.”
The musical performance was complete with a live orchestra, which Palashewski said has never happened in Zimmerman before.
“That just adds a whole other element,” he said. “It’s just very exciting.”
The orchestra was entirely made up of students with the exception of the director and a piano player.
“We received lots of comments from people that were amazed with the performance but also with the facility,” Palashewski said. “The venue does make a difference.”
Typically, the high school performs its annual musical in the fall, but organizers weren’t certain the auditorium would be ready in time, so they pushed it to the spring this year. And that decision was a good one.
“It was amazing,” said high school junior Linny Briggs, who played the lead role of Anna. “That big of a change from the cafeteria and having the green room and nice dressing rooms was so nice. Having that much space to just be ourselves was amazing!”
Palashewski said that in the old space, attendees couldn’t always see or hear well and the chairs were uncomfortable.
“It was a hundred times better,” said sophomore Hunter Peterson, stage director for “The King and I.” “We actually had tools to build with and to make everything, and the sound and lighting equipment was much better.”
Peterson said the set crew was able to go higher and wider than in the past due to the confines of the lunchroom space, and having the fly system gave the crew many new options.
Palashewski agreed that the new auditorium has many benefits for the students, particularly those on the tech crew. For “The King and I,” there were about 70 students involved including 45 in the cast.
“There are so many more options, especially for those thinking about a career in theater,” he said. “We could only dream of these things before.”
For Briggs, the weekend’s three performances were something she won’t soon forget.
“So many people that I didn’t even know came up to me and said it was amazing,” Briggs said. “There were lots of compliments.”
Zimmerman is involved in the Hennepin Theater Trust Spotlight Program and one of the perks is having a theater professional come out during rehearsals, look at the show and give suggestions. They also critique the performance and, in June, will give out awards to the top performers in the state. Palashewski hopes some Zimmerman students will be invited there this year.
This new auditorium came about after voters approved a bond referendum two years ago.
“We’re very thankful to have this space,” Palashewski said. “Some of them have been dreaming and wanting this for a long time.”