When gubernatorial candidates took to the stage at the William Blount High School theater on Monday, Oct. 28, they didn’t know the staff had been airing the room out with fans for two days.
It was the smell of progress to those who love theater at the high school.
Theater teacher Renda Crowe is in her first year at William Blount High School, but she is a woman on a mission -- a seven-part mission to upgrade the theater at William Blount.
The completion of Phase 1 accounted for the need to air out the room.
Principal Steve Lafon said the smell was from refinishing the theater stage floor.
“We worked really hard and spent a lot of time getting the floor finished,” LaFon said.
The theater was an initial point of hesitation when Blount Education Initiative asked for William Blount to be the host of the educational forum. Lafon said he and his staff were honored, but hesitant because of the condition of the theater. “I hated for anyone to see our theater.”
Crowe and LaFon went straight to the gold standard to look for what they would need to do for the theater. A month ago Crowe and Lafon got a behind-the-scenes tour of the renovated Tennessee Theater.
“This is a big dream,” LaFon said of the renovations they want for the William Blount theater, “but I’m looking to see what it is going to take.”
The principal said more emphasis is being place on the fine arts, especially with the investment being made in the Clayton Center for the Arts. “We want to have a theater program to funnel people into fine arts at Maryville College.”
Crowe said updated facilities are vital to having prepared students. “We need an updated theater,” she said.
So she has a plan. Crowe is a veteran teacher who was at Carpenters Middle School, and she is also a William Blount alumni.
“I was in the first graduating class that performed in this theater,” she said. “It’s ironic that I’m here after 30 years. I want to see this program grow.”
Crowe said she has written several grants to get funding, and she can recite her seven-step plan to get the theater updated.
“There are seven steps or phases that will ensure we have an updated theater,” Crowe said. “Phase I, refinishing the theater floor, has been done. Phase II is updating the technology. Phase III is installing large screens. Phase IV is updating the lighting. Phase V is installing a new sound system. Phase VI is painting the walls. Phase VII is installing new curtains.”
The theater also needs new seat upholstery, new carpet and a box office in the front of the theater, but Crowe will first stick to her seven-phase plan.
The theater teacher and students work hard on productions, LaFon said. “They spend a tremendous amount of time preparing programs together. When they are dealing with antiquated equipment, they have to spend that much more time,” he said.
The principal said in one production the sound system was working fine at the beginning. “We started to have problems five minutes into an hour and a half show,” he said, “which caused half the microphones to go out. I felt sorry for the kids. They worked so hard, and no one could hear it.”
Lafon said the theater at William Blount High School is a focal point for the community. “Whatever they see in the theater is what they see in William Blount,” he said.
The theater program is important not just because it teaches students techniques about acting, but it also equips them for the work world. “Public speaking is a vitally important skill they will need in their jobs,” LaFon said. “Being able to get up in front of people is a big step for a high school student.”
Crowe can be sure there will be others in the school pulling for her success. The theater is used for many different activities, LaFon said. “The choir uses it, and the band uses it. We feel the theater is in an area where the community sees us, and we want to look as good as we can.”
In addition to updating the theater, Lafon said Crowe is updating the program. “We’re really excited about Ms. Crowe. Renda came to us from Carpenters Middle School and is dedicated to the theater program,” he said. “I think we have someone in Renda to keep pushing us to make it work.”