Chieftain Stronger, Part Two: The Performing Arts Center

As details start to emerge about the upcoming Chieftain Stronger School Bond and the proposed new high school campus, one building quite literally stands out from the rest: the Performing Arts Center.

In renderings, the building sits at the corner of Mission and Dewey Avenue, facing west. The visual combination of white stone, red brick, steel, and Chieftain blue is a great example of what the building represents: a mix of fine and performing arts, unbridled creativity, and unlimited opportunity. The size and grandeur of the building make the statement that this is a place the community can be proud of.

This is part two of the four-part series on the Chieftain Stronger school bond. This week we take a look at the Performing Arts Center. (Read part one here.)

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More than a high school

While the existing Shaw Auditorium has served the school well through decades of assemblies, musicals, recitals, competitions, and more, it’s always been inhibited in its ability to bring the best experience in sound and theater to Sapulpa.

Sapulpa High School vocal music director Gina Myers says the current space limits the production options because “there is virtually no backstage area. There are many musicals that we just cannot consider doing because of the lack of space,” she says.

As part of the 2023 Chieftain Stronger school bond proposal, the new Performing Arts Center would have no such limitations. Working designs include more than 1,000 seats with a balcony, additional backstage space, and larger flyspace that will allow for more complex productions. An orchestra pit will bring the best in live musical performances.

“A new Performing Arts Center would be a game-changer for Sapulpa students as well as the Sapulpa community,” Myers says.

These renderings show what the new auditorium in the Performing Arts Center could look like.

Speech, Debate, and Theatre teacher Rebecca Braswell says more space is sorely needed for the school to continue to produce shows that prepare students for a big production, including technical theatre—something that Braswell says they’re not able to adequately teach in their current facility.

“It will also open up opportunities for us to do shows that are too big for our current facility,” Braswell says. “There will be room to build sets and props and to store the things we have and make. There should also be plenty of storage added for costumes, props, and supplies that come with putting on shows.”

Braswell says she’s looking forward to seeing what can happen with all of the performing artists under the same roof. “I imagine that could open up opportunities for some creative collaboration between all of our departments!”

Superintendent Rob Armstrong believes the district has utilized the current auditorium as long as it can. “The high school auditorium has long been a special place for our school community,” he says. “Unfortunately, due to age, persistent leaky roofs, and wear and tear over decades of heavy use, the current auditorium does not reflect the great things our students are doing. A new space is desperately needed.”

Assistant Superintendent Johnny Bilby echoes Armstrong, saying the existing facility doesn’t measure up to the hard, award-winning work the students and instructors are doing. “As we’ve traveled with our families to events in other communities, we have been impressed with the venues we’ve seen at neighboring school districts,” Bilby said. “Our students are incredibly talented. They’re winning numerous state contests in band and vocal music. People love to see our musical in the spring. Our students and our instructors are doing great things, they deserve a beautiful place to showcase what they’re learning.”

The Robson Center in Claremore and the Freeland Center in Bristow have both been getting a lot of attention of late as they bring in outsiders to see Broadway stage and theatre productions—the latter had an extremely successful run of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” last June. Could Sapulpa benefit from a similar facility?

School officials say they recognize that other communities are benefiting from the versatility of new facilities and that Sapulpans shouldn’t have to travel outside of our community to see a dance recital or enjoy local music. Still, they say the key reason they need a new PAC is to benefit the students as their performing and fine arts programs flourish.

“Sapulpa could host any number of events at a new auditorium and we are very much looking forward to expanding opportunities with our community partners,” Superintendent Armstrong says. “It’s all about opportunities. Our school facilities should reflect the incredible learning opportunities our students receive.”

For the community, and for the classroom

The conceptual design would move band, music, and theater rooms to an area adjacent to the PAC so students have easier access to the performance area. During the design process, school instructors will meet with the architectural teams to determine the placement of their fine arts classrooms. Modern equipment and technology are also part of this bond issue to ensure the teachers and students have the tools they need for the best possible learning environment.

A PAC would be a premier place for guest speakers, educational presentations, stage productions and musicals, student-led events, and importantly, the traditional high school assemblies such as Senior Assembly or Howdy Week Assembly.

Sapulpa-based Reed Architecture and Interiors, along with DLR Group, are the firms chosen to design the new high school and the PAC.

“We really look to the educators and students to help guide the layout and design,” said Jennifer Bradshaw, project architect at Reed Architecture and Interiors. “It’s important to have a deep understanding of their needs to make sure we propose the best solutions.”

Sapulpa Schools has long enjoyed the continued generous support of the Edward E. and Helen Turner Bartlett Foundation in its fine and performing programs. They’re hoping that this new collaborative facility can not only honor their generosity but become a place that draws even more support from lovers of both fine arts and education.

Is it necessary?

One question that comes to mind is the necessity of the PAC for preparing students for a successful career path, especially when that path might not include fine arts or music appreciation. Could a prospective blue or white-collar workforce benefit from a new PAC?

There are many career paths in the performing arts beyond being on the stage – marketing, lighting design, costume design, writing, special effects, set design, and box office management are just a few examples. The PAC will be much more than a stage. It will be a first-rate learning environment for students to explore college and career-ready paths. Not to mention, fine arts education is key to developing more successful students.

“Music is very important to kids’ development. It’s an activity where they use both sides of their brain in order to learn to play an instrument and to perform that music. There’s been lots of research about how it helps their brain develop,” said Whitney Yokum, Sapulpa High School band director. “Also though, it’s huge in helping them develop character. Performing music is not an easy thing. When they learn to play their instrument, they learn to be bad at something and then practice, and get good at it in order to perform. That process of growing through something– that’s a big, big thing that music helps them with.” 

Sapulpa Bands students are learning to become leaders and teachers, through a robust mentorship program and workshops that a new PAC would support. Band and vocal music students are attending college on music scholarships. SPS programs receive superior ratings at state contests. In the 2022-23 season, the Sapulpa High School band’s wind ensemble received the Sweepstakes award for combined superior ratings in both state concert and marching band contests.

Theater and vocal music students are routinely invited to perform at the Tulsa PAC for the Discovery Awards, which recognizes local musical theater students.

A starting point for many journeys

The district has also embarked on an educational pathways curriculum, which will give all students early opportunities to explore talents, gain experiences associated with careers and college majors, and gain life skills to be successful after high school. Educational pathways will be in place before construction is completed on the new high school, so the new building and the PAC will reflect that program and the environment of opportunity. We will delve further into the educational pathways program in next week’s feature on the Chieftain Stronger bond proposal. 

“Our students are doing great things and our community is endlessly supportive. We want Sapulpa schools to be the schools families want their children to attend. Superior learning environments, such as the proposed PAC, will facilitate comprehensive curriculum and provide enhanced opportunities to shape well-rounded students,” Superintendent Armstrong said.

The Chieftain Stronger school bond must pass with 60% of the vote. The election takes place on September 12th. More information on the bond in its entirety can be found on the school’s website.

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