This is my school's full orchestra practicing in the new theatre for the grand opening celebration this weekend. Workmen put the finishing touches on the seats while the kids rehearse.
In April of 2000, a sophomore boy at my school, Geoff, was killed in a tragic automobile accident in Palos Verdes. He was one of those bright shining stars you see only occasionally in education--academically brilliant, multi-talented as a performer, magician and sportsman--and a friend to everyone from kindergartners on--including adults.
His parents did a very courageous thing. One son had already graduated from here and a daughter was in Middle School. They wanted to have something good to come out of the tragedy; because their son loved performing so much, they and their family and close friends made the lead gift toward a new state-of-the-art teaching and performing center. I'm in the fund-raising department and the community and local foundations came through with most of the remainder over the past four years. The 23,000 plus square foot building, with a main theatre, courtyard, rehearsal studios, a scene and technical theatre shop, dressing rooms, and a small black box theatre within the theatre, ended up costing about $7 million. Geoff's class graduated two years ago and the theatre has been rising from the ground-up for the last 12 months. Tomorrow we open it with a Friday night celebration for family and major donors and Sunday for the entire community. We are so grateful to have such an incredible facility for our kids, but one can't help but remember how the whole thing came about.
The workmen are still scurrying around but theatre is ready for students to perform in and guests to come and watch them. I went to the first rehearsal of the all school orchestra this afternoon, the first performance in the new building, with trusty digital camera and flash in hand. During real performances we have to shoot high speed film with no flash, but today I had full access to the stage and anywhere I wanted to go. I got more than 100 of the most touching photos I have ever taken from every angle imaginable, including tight face shots of kids singing, playing instruments, dancing. The Rachmaninoff symphony they were playing literally sounded like a professional orchestra because the kids were in top form and the acoustics are so incredible. I was smiling, I was crying, I was remembering. I finally went to the top bank of seats in the theatre and just watched, letting the tears flow freely. Workmen were teary and those from school who dropped in and out were deeply moved to see the kids and their teachers rehearsing.
This is a classic Phoenix out-of-the-ashes story. Geoff lives on in the hearts of everyone who ever knew and loved him and now generations of students and our South Bay community will remember him every time they enter Chadwick School's Geoffrey Alan Laverty Center for the Performing Arts. I didn't know Geoff well, but he and his family are definitely in my heart today.