Key Theater Pros Sign Petition For Fly Loft at New George Mason High

FALLS CHURCH CITY MANAGER Wyatt Shields, at the podium, welcomed the citizens who showed up for the second Community Design Review session last month on components planned for the new George Mason High School. The components presented excluded a “fly” loft and system for the school theater. (Photo: News-Press)

Falls Church’s heavyweight theater professionals began weighing in on the now-contentious issue of current plans to exclude a fly-loft system from the theater-auditorium at the new George Mason High School.

Former Falls Church vice mayor and vice chair of the City’s Creative Cauldron theater performance and educational board, Marty Meserve, penned a letter to the News-Press this week where she calls the omission “a huge oversight.” She also joined her signature to over three dozen others attending an annual gala last weekend of the Creative Cauldron non-profit based in Falls Church.

“I urge the schools to reconsider this omission and treat the arts department with the same fairness that other other programs enjoy,” Meserve wrote. A fly-loft system in the theater is that which enables the rapid change of sets and scenes and the storage of larger props over the stage behind the curtain.

The system of pulleys and joists, originally developed during the Renaissance, has been in operation in Falls Church since the construction of the current George Mason High, but space and safety considerations have been given as reasons for eliminating it in the new school.

Even though the final design features of the proposed new George Mason High School, coming with a $120 million bill that Falls Church citizens will foot, are being touted by the School Board and City Council as ostensibly a community-wide decision, it has been School Superintendent Peter Noonan who has been the strongest spokesman and advocate for eliminating the system.

Noonan will co-host, along with Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields, another public meeting on the new school development process on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. at the Falls Church Community Center. Another community meeting is set for Nov. 18, and no date has yet been set for a final meeting on design features of the new school.

Noonan made an extended defense of eliminating the feature in comments to the board of the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation Monday night, according to board chair Cecily Shea. According to her, he claimed that the school’s insurer said it could not insure it, among other things.

But Meserve wrote, “The current school has one, and has been able to craft an award-winning International Baccalaureate theater program around it. For $120 million, the school system is proposing to build a theater that eliminates a key element contained in the existing one.”

Meserve added, “The arts are more than just a pretty picture or lovely song. They bring enrichment, knowledge, inspiration and social connections to our citizenry, and we are the poorer without their presence.”

Among others to sign the petition, which called for a fly-loft system to be included in the new George Mason High School theater, was Denise Perrino, former theater arts teacher at McLean High School, who commented that when McLean was renovated, and the fly-loft system removed from the theater years ago, it only led to the eventual need to put it back in, due to popular demand, and a cost of reinstating it that was far higher than if they’d just put it in in the first place.

Former U.S. Congressman Martin Lancaster and his wife, who live in Falls Church and whose daughters graduated from George Mason High, signed the petition, along with Nancy Scott, wife of the late State Del. Jim Scott, and Edith Snyder, wife of Falls Church Councilman David Snyder.

Laura Hull, founder and executive director of the Creative Cauldron, signed it, along with Gina Caceci, chair of the Cauldron’s board of directors, and two of the most prestigious signers were Matt Conner, creator and director of the new production of “Nevermore” which has opened the fall season at the Cauldron, and Stephen Smith, who plays the lead role in the musical about the life of Edgar Allen Poe.

Poe himself was not present, but was undoubtedly channeled not only by Smith and Conner, but also by many of those who saw the show’s new premiere Saturday night and signed the petition.