Seating used to be hard to come by at Monroe County school performances. The district had outgrown its venues and they filled up quickly, sometimes leaving parents to stand at the back.
With nearly 1,200 seats, the new Monroe County Schools Fine Arts Center solves that problem and offers greater opportunities to showcase area students — and visiting artists.
The nearly 38,000-square-foot facility, right next to the Board of Education building on Brooklyn Avenue, broke ground in March 2015 and recently held its official grand opening.
The $8.25-million project, a dream of board members and the last two superintendents, was funded through an education sales tax initiative, said Jackson Daniel, assistant superintendent for personnel and operations.
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Previously, school plays and musicals were being staged at the auditorium in the Board of Education building, which has just 350 seats, no backstage area or dressing rooms, and limited light and sound equipment. Bands had started doing concerts in their school gyms or auditoriums, and chorus events had moved to the the former Tift College’s Roberts Chapel, which has 600 seats.
Those venues still may be used occasionally for smaller productions, but most events now will be held at the Fine Arts Center. The board chose the Brooklyn Avenue site because of its central location. All the schools are within a one-mile radius of it, and it’s only a mile from the interstate.
Surrounded by windows, the lobby fills with natural light and is large enough to bring in tables for receptions and portable boards for art exhibits. A grand staircase takes visitors to the 282 balcony seats on the second floor. All the seats have a comfortable amount of leg room and are sloped so no one’s view is blocked.
The auditorium was built with sound quality in mind and has excellent acoustics, Daniel said. In fact, Mary Persons High School chorus members were able to sing without microphones during their December concert, chorus director Charles Hernandez said.
“This facility has been long awaited and long overdue,” he said. “It’s just a glorious space to perform in, whether it be choir or some of our other upcoming musical theater projects. It’s going to offer (students) a visual of the importance of fine arts.”
The stage itself is 5,000 square feet, with multiple curtain lines. In other words, about five stages from the Board of Education auditorium would fit inside this new one, Daniel said.
Backstage, there are interior and exterior roll-up doors for loading sets. Schools will be able to have bigger shows, sets, dance numbers and props, like the 6-foot puppet dragon for Mary Persons’ “Shrek” production in the spring, Hernandez said.
The building features men’s and women’s dressing rooms with 20 makeup stations, bathrooms, water fountains, and TVs that show a live feed of the stage. There’s also a multipurpose room, prep kitchen and an intercom system throughout the building.
In addition to school events, the Fine Arts Center will host outside performers in a variety of genres. The first community events are “An Evening with John Berry” on Feb. 3, and “Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone” on March 5. District officials have not decided yet if they will allow private events such as weddings at the venue.
In December, four separate concerts highlighted the band and chorus students in the district’s elementary, middle and high schools and a community chorus with 13 churches. Daniel said about 5,000 people attended those four concerts, and he’s received a lot of positive feedback.
“I see it being a hub for our performing arts in our schools, but I also see it being a hub for our entire community and the state of Georgia,” said Monroe County Superintendent Mike Hickman. “Every time I come in here, I am kind of awed.”
Forsyth is a big football city with a great stadium, and now it has an equally impressive arts venue, Hernandez said. The Fine Arts Center is key to the growth of arts, academics and athletics in the county, Hickman said.
Right now, school system employees are handling most of the facility operations, Daniel said. A contractor is handling the sound/lighting work, but a full-time employee will eventually be added, as well as a house manager.
Upcoming performances at the Fine Arts Center
▪ “An Evening with John Berry:” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3. Tickets at www.ticketalternative.com or 877-725-8849.
▪ “Seussical Jr.” by Sutton Elementary School: 7 p.m. Feb. 23-24
▪ “No Strings Attached” by Hubbard Elementary School: 7 p.m. March 3-4
▪ “Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone:” 7:30 p.m. March 5. Tickets at www.ticketalternative.com or 877-725-8849.
▪ “Beauty and the Beast” by Scott Elementary School: 7 p.m. March 14 and 16
▪ “Legally Blonde” by Monroe County Middle School: 7 p.m. March 29-30
▪ “Shrek” by Mary Persons High School: 7 p.m. April 27-29 and 3 p.m. April 30
Note: Tickets for school performances will be sold at the door.
Want a seat with your name on it?
The Monroe County Schools Fine Arts Center is selling engraved nameplates for its auditorium seats. To honor or memorialize someone through a $250 donation, call the Board of Education at 478-994-2031 for a form.