The curtain has risen on lessons inside the new performing-arts center for North East School of the Arts students.
Many of the young performers and other creative pupils at the Legacy of Educational Excellence High School-based campus are giving the facility rave reviews.
“My reaction to the new performing-arts center building was one of amazement and excitement,” said senior Alex Charney, specializing in creative writing. “The thing I love most about this new building is the possibilities with this new space. I can’t help but think about how our future shows will change.”
Learners majoring in five of the seven disciplines offered in the North East Independent School District’s magnet program have started their instruction in the complex to start the spring semester.
The fresh NESA performing arts center — the final project to be completed under NEISD’s 2015 bond program — is also the new home to LEE High School’s separate arts classes and extracurricular spirit programs.
Costing $30.5 million, the venue is near the existing fine-arts facility. It includes a 750-seat capacity theater, orchestra pit, men’s and women’s dressing rooms, green room, piano storage, and separate scene shops with prop and costume storage for NESA and LEE pupils.
Boys previously had to use a bathroom for wardrobe changes.
“Now we don’t have to worry about that. It is also much bigger, so we don’t have to be as cramped in there,” said senior Austin Riley, a dance and musical-theater major.
There are separate NESA and LEE dance studios with main rehearsal halls, dance offices, mobile storage systems, mat storage areas, locker rooms and mezzanines.
“The dance studio is so big and I cannot wait to create and be able to perfect my artistry in this new building with all my friends,” said Marissa Garza, a sophomore dance major.
There’s also a black-box theater, storage and separate offices for NESA and LEE drama programs.
In addition, the choir and orchestra each have main rehearsal halls and offices, soundproof practice rooms, ensemble spots, plus uniform and instrument storage.
Creative-writing students have their own classrooms and office, too.
The existing fine-arts facility underwent renovations, including replacing more than 600 auditorium seats and the projector system.
Pupils got a preview just before Christmas, which was just like opening a holiday gift, said NESA program director Lenida Spurlock.
“It was truly awe. They didn’t believe this space was really for them because the space they’re walking into truly feels like a professional space,” she added.
The architects, Pfluger Associates, got some input from NESA educators and students about designing specific programming places to suit everyone’s wishes.
“It’s going to be really nice for us to have two performing spaces,” Spurlock said of the new theater and existing auditorium.
“The scheduling has been somewhat of a challenge for us and it honestly takes us hours at a meeting to plan out the year’s worth of performances for LEE and for NESA, as well to address needs of (the International School of the Americas and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy).”
Roll-out costume storage maximizes overall space and extends the life of fabrics, Spurlock said.
All quarters in the new building have high ceilings, permitting plenty of natural lighting. The black box has a catwalk, plus state-of-the-art audio and lights.
“It’ll provide an opportunity for our students to learn and play with lighting and sound design for our performances in the black box,” Spurlock added.
Senior Amaryllis Martinez, a creative-writing major, said the advanced digs set the stage for all the courses offered there.
“It is the perfect place to start my career and I wouldn’t want to practice my craft anywhere else,” Martinez added.
Although remote learning during the pandemic sparked challenges for teachers and learners alike, Spurlock said program directors adapted to logistic obstacles, and have been “innovative in their approach to their lessons and collaborations with one another.”
“These students’ desire to create and perform is an innate part of them. It’s like breathing. They need that outlet, that opportunity, to express themselves,” she added.
In January, NESA streamed, “Raise You Up: Songs in the Time of Corona,” a collaboration among five school disciplines.
This spring, the hope is that limited live audiences can see the musical “Anastasia,” but livestreaming might be necessary, Spurlock said.