A performance place to call home

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Democrat photo/Kerry Hays A performance center to call home Mary Richmiller, choir director at Cassville High School, happily inspected the new FEMA Event Center, where this year's performance to The Show, is scheduled. Richmiller is excited the district now has a facility to showcase nearly all students' fine arts performances. The center will also serve the district and nearby residents shelter in the event of a future tornado.

Mary Richmiller has been the choir director at Cassville High School for over 20 years. Each year, she trains her singing groups to perform in contests and community concerts. This year, for the first time, her groups and others in the school district will have a place to call home.

"We're very excited the have the Federal Emergency Management Agency Event Center, and very excited that we have a facility that can house almost all of our fine arts events," said Richmiller who also serves as the fine arts coordinator for the district.

This week the community will get an opportunity to see the results of the months of planning and construction that went into this facility. Cassville's annual The Show, performed by HomeTown Sound and the RedHots, is the first community group granted access to the facility for their three performances.

"You're not coming to a gym -- you're coming in here so that we can host you and you're going to have a great experience," said Richard Asbill, superintendent of the Cassville R-4 District.

Asbill credits the school board with having the vision to take a grant intended to build, "four walls, a roof and a floor," with creating an event center that can be used for school arts programs and the community.

"The board did some additional things to improve the overall aesthetics of a concrete facility," said Asbill who described how the addition of acoustical treatment, chair-back seating, audio equipment, housing for lights, a stage, curtains, a lobby and an outdoor patio moved the facility way beyond a FEMA tornado-rated shelter.

Building the facility was not a mandate, but Asbill and the board saw this as an opportunity to receive outside funds to meet a need within the community and avert the potential for tragedy in the event of a tornado.

"It was amazing how many people took for granted what we were building back there until the day when it hit another school on a school day," said Asbill in reference to the tragic events that took place in Oklahoma earlier this year.

Cost for the project was approximately $2.5 million with the school district funding about 50 percent of that amount. The facility includes 450 elevated chair backed chairs with arms and the ability to add an additional 400 regular seats as needed.

The stage and lighting equipment are portable so if an anticipated audience for an event like the Music In Our Schools Concert is larger, then the equipment can be moved to another venue in the district.

Asbill and the board understood the importance of providing the best educational experience for all students and took this into consideration when designing the facility.

"We wanted the performing arts programs to have a place that the could utilize and have first priority with," said Asbill, " so that they're not trying to schedule a gym and have to displace PE or get displaced because of an athletic event."

Dave Large, Cassville High School athletic director, appreciates the importance of this facility in relieving the pressure of trying to schedule limited resources during heavy use periods.

"Being a PE teacher, it really affects [classes] with the setup of the choir and the band when they need to come in and practice during the day," said Large. "If you couldn't get outside, it pretty much shut down that day and what you could do."

Large views the addition of this facility as a win-win situation for students involved in the arts and those enrolled in PE classes. He also supports the fact that the performing arts programs will now have a place to rehearse and perform.

"I think it's good for our performing arts to have an area that can be theirs," said Large, "where they get first priority on everything."

Talana Sloan is a recently hired instructor at the high school who teaches drama and coaches the forensic team. She sees using this facility cautiously as an outlet for students to participate in live theatrical performances.

"Initially, we'll just start out with one acts," said Sloan, "thirty-minute plays that get the kids' feet wet because they're not used to performing."

The first production planned will be a simple children's play called "Cinderella Wore Army Boots," which is scheduled in November. Sloan hopes to build upon the success of this and other short productions during the year to work students up to something bigger.

"My expectation is to start off with small plays," said Sloan, " and hopefully in the next three or four years build to where we can do a full main stage production in there."

Richmiller is in the process of starting a community organization made up of parents and other interested individuals called Friends of the Fine Arts. She hopes this type of group will evolve and provide support for all of the visual and performing arts events that will be scheduled at the facility. Sloan and Richmiller both agree that part of the group's mission may also need to include community education as well as outreach.

"I don't know if the community understands what the arts are or what they do [for students]," said Sloan, "because it's more of an agricultural and sports-oriented community."

Last week, Richmiller had an opportunity to see the inside of the facility for the first time. With eyes closed and guided by Asbill, she walked to the front of the stage where she opened her eyes to a whole new world of exciting possibilities.

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