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Theater community awaits auditorium repairs

EMPTY+AUDITORIUM+-+The+auditorium+sits+empty+due+to+various+technical+issues.+Funds+to+fix+the+auditorium+have+been+allocated%2C+but+repairs+have+yet+to+start.
Desmond Parsons
EMPTY AUDITORIUM – The auditorium sits empty due to various technical issues. Funds to fix the auditorium have been allocated, but repairs have yet to start.

On October 1, $550,000 in funds to repair the broken auditorium were allocated to the DCPS budget by the DC City Council. Although these funds have now been available for over two months, repairs have yet to begin.

The auditorium has sat barren since it was shut down after the 2022 spring play “Les Miserables” due to countless problems including broken sound, lighting and audio-visual systems, a leaking roof, broken chairs, screens, and curtains. Although the facility was shut down then, the problems with the auditorium had been prominent before.

Daniel Iwaniec, a Performing Arts Teacher and director of the Theater Department, started teaching at Jackson-Reed ten years ago and said that the problems were already present when he arrived. “One of the issues from the get-go, before I was even here, was when they installed things to begin with, they had bought used equipment and some of it was already obsolete by that point. It just didn’t work anymore,” Iwaniec said. 

Karen Harris, the former director of multiple Jackson-Reed productions said that “there is no earmarked budget each year to fix, manage, and maintain the space, so these problems have grown and built on each other over the years.” 

While DCPS is in charge of overseeing this auditorium project, DGS is supposed to help DCPS with this process by identifying a possible vendor to complete the repair work. However, the assessment phase (the first step to identifying a vendor) has not started. “One of the problems here is this opaque relationship between the responsibilities of DGS and DCPS,” said Caroline Mehta, JR parent and advocate for the repair process. Although Iwaniec engaged in a “walkthrough” to assess the damages with a representative from DCPS facilities/DGS, it was not an official assessment. 

“My understanding is that the walkthrough will lead to the assessment phase, so hopefully that is where they’re going next,” Iwaniec said. 

Additionally, before the installation of a new lighting system, the leaking auditorium roof needs to be fixed. In a budget separate from the auditorium repair budget, money was designated to fix the auditorium roof along with the atrium roof, and the repairs were supposed to happen over the summer. But, Iwaniec notes that there are still holes in the auditorium roof. “From what I understand, [admin] said that that’s been fixed, but I know there are still water issues,” Iwaniec said. 

DCPS and DGS have also still not reported a timeline for the project. Council member Matt Frumin reports that his office and that of Council member Lewis George have been following this project as closely as they can and conveying a sense of urgency that it be completed well and as promptly as possible. “DCPS has heard and understands that the school community wants to see this project done on time for the Spring musical. That said, they appear still to be assessing exactly what work needs to be done with the available funding. They have assured me that once work is done they have taken steps so that a contractor can promptly be selected and work commence. In short, no specific timeline, but they know many are and will be watching and hopefully they can get the work started soon,” Frumin said. 

The lack of timeline and action has also left the theater community frustrated. Luther Hoy, a senior at Jackson-Reed and a member of the theater community testified in a public hearing for DCPS schools in November of this year. “The Jackson-Reed Theater Program was promised by DGS that construction would start in the month of October this year so that it could be used for the upcoming spring musical, however, this has not been the case,” Hoy testified. Hoy adds that although performing in the Black Box Theater “has its benefits, as you feel more connected and interactive with the audience,” there are traditions and experiences that he is missing out on in his senior year like kissing the auditorium stage at the end of the year.”

The smaller Black Box environment has also limited the number of people able to perform and be cast in a play. “There’s such a high demand for this extracurricular with so little space it makes the work environment much more stressful and toxic,” Hoy said.

Along with the small cast size, the Black Box also limits the audience to a maximum of 180 people compared to the 850 seats in the auditorium. Due to a much smaller number of available tickets, this has posed a funding challenge to the theater department as there needs to be double the shows put on in the Black Box to generate a sufficient amount of money. “Right now we are on all cylinders. We can only do that for so long before we just wear out and run out of options to do things in here that we can make money for,” Iwaniec said. 

Iwaniec has therefore had to be very careful about budget spending. “We’re just running on borrowed time now,” he said.

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Edith Corrigan Conaty, Spread Editor
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