Strong Pro, Con Statements Precede F.C. Schools’ ‘Fly Lift’ Matter Tonight

Two opposing statements from local heavyweights on the issue of whether or not the new George Mason High School auditorium should include a “fly lift” system or not were issued today in the hours before a discussion of the item at a F.C. School Board work session tonight.

Superintendent  Peter Noonan issued a draft outline of his case for not including the system that he said he will make at tonight’s meeting, and on the other side, 37-year veteran Mason High theater’s arts teacher and technical stage director John Ballou issued a letter to the News-Press (to be published in full in this week’s edition) attesting to “how important an asset our fly rigging system (in the current auditorium–ed.) has been for generations of students.”

Noonan’s draft says that since last December, after the school bond referendum passed, he met with “the arts team” at Mason (Mary Jo West and Shawn Northrip) “to ensure that the educational specifications for the new theater were correct.” In March, he states, “the design team shared the original schematic design, no fly, with Mary Jo and Shawn…Shawn was disappointed at first as it was a loss of something that we have but after discussing saw it as an opportunity to do more with technology and 3D set design” (later in his draft, Noonan states that “Hamilton, on Broadway, was done with 3D set design, technology, and no fly loft”).

“I trust our teachers and I trust the experts we have selected to help us make good decisions about the theater design. This includes Polisonic, Quinn Evans, Gilbane, surrounding jurisdictions and their specialists, the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Municipal League.”

In his letter, Ballou wrote, “From 1981 until my retirement last year, I worked every production that our school and surrounding community put on in that auditorium, as well as used that space for a surprising range of unusual projects, such as practice fields for our robotics team and the International Baccalaureate art show. I have an intimate knowledge of every corner, high and low, having been responsible for its upkeep and improvement. I loved working in that flexible and versatile environment.”

He added, “The rigging system our auditorium enjoys allowed our students to plan and act much more ambitiously that if we had a ‘cafetorium’ type of stage. This counter-balanced sets of bars, cables and ropes allows a very dynamic approach to positioning lighting instruments, sound equipment, curtains and set pieces. Our catwalk that is above the stage allows the stage crew to sprinkle snow on a Nutcracker ballet or work some such other special effect.”

He went on, “We never had a serious accident in the 37 years I worked and played in that rigging. A whole lot of students learned a love of stagecraft by working in this versatile facility…It would be a shame if our new school building was not at least as versatile and capable as the one we currently have.”

Tonight’s School Board work session begins at 7 p.m. at the School Board conference room on the second floor at 800 W. Broad St. It is open to the public though work sessions do not normally accommodate public comments during the meeting. The next full School Board meeting where such public comments are welcomed will be held the following Tuesday, Oct. 27.