//Ad libs: New M-A theater: It sure beats J Building

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New M-A theater: It sure beats J Building

Which is worse: sweltering in a stifling theater, or having a key moment in a play ruined because an old air-conditioning system came roaring on at the wrong moment and drowned out the dialogue?

If you build a $32 million t
heater, one would hope you could avoid both problems. While giving a press tour of Menlo-Atherton High School's glossy new performing-arts center yesterday, principal Matthew Zito was particularly proud of the A/C. He said it's been designed to run no louder than 17 decibels. On behalf of actors everywhere, thank you.

The new theater is quite a sight. While Zito said he thinks it blends well with M-A's low-slung '50s architecture, I am happy to
disagree. The new building is swoopy and dramatic and glassy in the front, like a spaceship set down in cornfields. It sure beats the old J Building cafetorium it replaced. I like the way it stands out; you can't miss it, certainly not from Middlefield Road, and it puts M-A on the map in an entirely new way for my, shall we say, vintage-looking alma mater.

The 492-s
eat house is richly red in theme, with a 40-by-50-foot stage and a fly space that extends up 70 feet into the sky. The control booth is huge, in hopes that it will serve as an educational space for M-A students learning about stagecraft. The green room is actually green.

Out front is a
courtyard, where Zito envisions a jazz quartet or Polynesian dancers might perform. Drama students are already using it for rehearsal. Meanwhile, jazz teacher extraordinaire Frank Moura finally has a nice new music room elsewhere in the center, with plenty of input into the acoustics. And I am envious of the big dressing rooms with their flashy lights bordering the mirrors.

The school will use the performance space most of the time, with the city of Menlo Park claiming 55 days of usage a year, mostly in the summer, Zito said. The
Music@Menlo-ites are surely eager to use the space; its artistic directors will hold a special concert on Oct. 11 (already sold out) to herald its opening.

And I'm looking forward to seeing a full event schedule. Theater manager Cara Arcuni said a new website with calendar will launch soon.

Pictured: Top: Glossy windows at the front of the new performing-arts center. Above: A view from a catwalk looking down on the stage. Photos by Rebecca Wallace.