INDEPENDENCE -- From the booth of Central High's cavernous new auditorium, junior McKay
Boyack converses through a headset with the stage crew down below.
Boyack is responsible for illuminating different parts of the set when needed. On stage, cast members of the school's upcoming play, "Ebenezer," rehearse an early scene -- in near dark.
"Basically, all I should have to do is wait for my voice cues and push a button," she said.
Boyack fiddles with a complex-looking light board, then consults a thick operations manual. She eventually solves the problem with help from her mother, Wendy, who helped program the system.
The setup has been complicated to learn, Boyack admits. But she relishes being able to use it.
"I've run other light boards before and this is way simpler to use," she said. "I love it."
Central High students -- and community members -- will break in the new performing arts center with a two-week run of "Ebenezer" starting today (Wednesday, Dec. 1) at 6 p.m.
Director Jeff Witt said he chose this as the first play in the new $6.5 million, 599-seat facility for a few reasons.
A musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," it's certainly timely, Witt said.
It will also showcase some of the advantages of the new space compared to the high school's old auditorium.
The stage measures 45 feet by 80 feet, enough room for the two-story set and a 16-foot-wide revolving set piece that "Ebenezer" will feature.
There's nearly four times the lighting instruments for the show. A trapdoor will be employed for a scene with Jacob Marley's ghost. And monitors and intercoms are positioned throughout the stage, booth and green room that will display a video feed of the action on stage.
"It's so much better ... than people whispering backstage, `what scene are we on now?'" said Amanda Hallett, a sophomore and cast member.
There is, however, still a learning curve for the theater. Witt said he purposely pushed back the production until December in order for he and students to familiarize themselves with it.
He, students and even some parents have gone through training sessions on using the new equipment. Elements such as a flyloft will be utilized in future shows, he said.
"It's a whole new world," Witt said.
Witt said he felt "Ebenezer" would make for a symbolic first play for the performing arts center, in that it's "a true community production."
Its cast numbers 67, including high, middle and elementary school students, teachers, parents and local residents.
"I wanted to get as many people in the door as possible and on the stage," Witt said.
Chris Owens, a 2002 Central High alum and former drama student now living in Monmouth, is playing the role of Bob Cratchit. Owens said he had kept in touch with Witt over the years and was invited to audition.
The difference between the new building and the old auditorium is "night and day," he said.
"It's better than my college performing arts building," Owens said.
Central High School's production of "Ebenezer."
Dec. 1-4 and 8-11. The Dec. 1 performance begins at 6 p.m. and is free for area seniors. There will also be a matinee on Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. All other shows start at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $5 for 18 and under, and $8 for adults. They can be purchased at the door or reserved by calling 503-606-2225.
"Ebenezer" was written by Robert Voigt -- Jeff Witt's great uncle -- with music by Gary Frame. Both were educators in Salem-area high schools. The play was first performed in 1983 and had a long run in Salem during the 1980s. Like Central now, it included community members as part of its cast.