The Rothschild Performing Arts Center opened tonight to an excited crowd of nearly 700 visitors. The state-of-the-art facility opened its doors at 6:30 p.m. to a throng of students, parents, faculty and staff, alumni, alumni parents and guests.
Guests included Jeff and Marieke Rothschild, for whom the facility is named, and Suhas and Jayashree Patil, daughter Dr. Teja Patil ’02, family members DJ and Devika Patil and their children, Veyd grade 6 and Samaara, grade 3, for whom the 450-seat theater is named. Other guests of honor included Diana Nichols, board of trustees chair, and members of the architectural and construction teams, as well as many of the major donors.
“It is a gorgeous building,” said Marieke Rothschild. “Harker has been known for its STEM students, and deservedly so, but the talent that is here in the arts – this gives them a home. It reminds me of the Bing Theater (University of Southern California) and the smaller theaters in New York. It is 450 seats, it is a good sized theater, but it is intimate,” she said.
Diana Nichols, board chair, consultant to Harker and lifetime trustee, spoke eloquently on the passion the performing arts department faculty bring to their students: “Their talent their motivation, their ability to inspire students and move them to greater heights.” She went on to thank the donors along with the multitude of others, from architects to builders that helped make the 50,000-square-foot center possible, singling out Joe Rosenthal, executive director of advancement, for his years of work on the $45 million capital campaign for the performing arts center and the athletic center that opened in August.
Head of School Brian Yager then conducted the ribbon cutting, done in three sections by donors, faculty and staff, and the architects and builders.
“Our main program,” Yager noted, “is to prepare kids for success in college and life, as well as to take their place as global citizens – those are the two bookends of our mission. The arts and performing arts are essential to both elements. In terms of preparing them for success in their own lives, performing arts open incredible opportunities for kids, not just professionally, but in terms of exploring who they are, understanding themselves and the world around them. That blends into the second part, which is making a difference in the world. You have to have an appreciation for others, for beauty and for the creative process to make a difference and this building provides a great platform for gaining that appreciation.”
As the doors opened, the crowd flowed into the building, filling the theater for the very first time. In a moment that sent a chill down the spine, in a darkened house, the show began with Laura Lang-Ree, chair of the performing arts department rising up from the orchestra pit, singing a few lines from that old show tune, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Check out this video of the show!
Following opening remarks by Lang-Ree and Jeff Draper, drama teacher (and a delicious pass across the stage by Karl Kuehn, dance teacher!), the very first act performed on the new stage was by Suhas and Jayashree along with their grandchildren, Veyd and Samaara, dancing to “Never Knew Love Like This Before.”
Next, Dr. Teja Patil, who was in the first graduating class from Harker upper school and an original member of the Harker Conservatory who performed in many Harker shows, took the stage and delivered heartfelt remarks that dovetailed beautifully with Yager’s comment. She noted that Draper’s instructions to her as a performer were instrumental in her development. Following his insightful instructions to seek to move the audience while on stage one day, “I felt so powerful and confident and inspired,” she said. “So much of growing up is about gaining confidence, it is about learning how to express yourself and Harker theater did that for me.”
She went on to note that, “Theater … really helps you to understand other people. Theater builds empathy. When you ask a child to play a character, you are really asking them to think deeply about someone outside of them self. It is emotional. It is a different kind of learning. Through that kind of transformative experience, you build your emotional intelligence. You gain empathy.”
Patil noted that as a doctor at the Stanford Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, she deals with men aged 60 to 100, people quite different than herself. “They lived, sometimes, quite difficult lives. They have fought for our country. It is not just my job to care for them, but to connect to them. Everything I know about understanding other people, feeling empathy, my emotional intelligence, it was built here, not in biology class, but here, in the theater. This space is physical proof that Harker cares about raising the whole, caring, emotionally intelligent, well-rounded student.”
Three great performances followed Patil, showcasing the great acoustics of the auditorium. First was a piece by Mindy Truong, grade 4, rendering a truly incredible version of ”Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66” by Frédéric Chopin on one of the features of the new center, a Bösendorfer piano.
Two alumni working in performing arts took the stage in turn, starting with Michelle Holt ’11, a Harker vocal conservatory certificate graduate who went on to The Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Holt, who will be trying out for Opera San Jose this spring, sang “Regnava nel Silenzio,” from “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
John Ammatuna ’11, a musical theater Conservatory certificate graduate who attended Marymount Manhattan College for musical theater, is currently working on Broadway as “Brother Bear.” Ammatuna reprised a tune from “Pippin,” the upper school musical he and Holt both played in in 2011, singing “Corner of the Sky.”
Both singers were accompanied by Catherine Snider of the performing arts department, an accomplished pianist and musical director, on the Bösendorfer.
During the evening, the audience was treated to a trio of videos showing a time lapse of the RPAC being built and student reactions (wild!) to theater and dressing rooms, showing the spaces visitors can’t get to like catwalks, and showing the various Harker venues, from Blackford Theater to De Anza Performing Arts Center that the new facility supersedes.
The audience was enthralled, and applauded each act and video in turn.
Marieke Rothschild had some inspiring words for those thinking of trying a performing art: “Don’t be afraid to fail, go out there and fail, go out there and carry that tune, just do it! And if you don’t want to be on stage, then be behind the scenes. The arts have so much to offer, there is so much there! You don’t have to be a star, just try it!”