A new home for the arts at Windermere Preparatory School is almost ready to step into the spotlight.
Finishing touches are being made on the Cypress Center for the Arts – the new two-story, 34,000-square-foot facility that includes a performance theatre, new classrooms for the arts and offices for faculty.
The building will be home to all of the middle school and high school art, dance, theatre arts, and music classes, along with lower school theatre arts.
Students will have access to the theatre, two dance studios, two theatre arts classrooms – which turn into a black box theatre, an instrumental music hall, and a large ensemble room for guitar classes and smaller string instrument classes. There’s also a piano/keyboard lab, a vocal music rehearsal hall, a dressing room, three visual arts classrooms and a scene shop where props are built.
“I refer to this as a shell – it’s not ours until we really make it ours,” director of fine arts Jason King said while looking around the inside of the building. “We’re going to load everything with student artwork on the walls, get the furniture in here and truly make it a Windermere Prep building. Right now you see the skeleton – all the fun stuff’s about to come and really liven it up and make it uniquely ours.”
“To have a home and a space like this where (students) can really create, produce and make so many wonderful things happen is really special for our school.”
Guests and students walking in are immediately greeted by a 1,000-square-foot atrium, which includes a video screen showcasing upcoming performances, two gallery walls to feature student art, and plenty of open space to serve as a reception area.
“We will feature all of our school’s student artwork here in the atrium – we can change the artwork in and out as often as we like to, where before I really had no home to feature our artwork,” King said. “We’d set up the gymnasium for two days every May and we had what was called the Masterpieces in May. … Now we can feature all of our visual artwork under one roof.”
The state-of-the-art theatre that sits at the heart of the new building has 250 permanent seats, 300 telescopic seats that pull out from the back wall, and room for 50 foldable chairs in the center of the room, adding up to 600 available seats during a big show.
King said the telescopic seating gives the space flexibility. An acoustically engineered partition wall can be pulled out to separate the 250 permanent seats from the back half of the the theatre, allowing the room to host two events simultaneously – like a show and a dinner or two separate classes.
The theatre is also equipped with four action cameras in the house for live streaming and recording, and the stage area has a motorized Batten fly system, which can vary the speed of screens, backdrops and even performers on harnesses moving up in the air.
“Our all-school musical is ‘Peter Pan’ in November – the first thing we’re putting in here,” King said. “We’re flying all four characters on stage. That’s going to be amazing.”
The new facility means several things for the arts programs at Windermere Prep: flexibility, convenience, and keeping productions and student projects on campus.
Before the new facility, much of the school’s schedule for productions was dependent on booking an available space, King said.
“I was at the mercy of other venues … wherever and whenever I could get a space,” King said. “That really dictated our schedule too, which created a lot of conflict with our school master calendar and trying to tweak that. What we’ve gained is a lot more flexibility in the way we can schedule events now. The days of renting a U-Haul and having to pick up a big old timpani drum, put it in the back of a U-Haul to take it town the street for a concert … those are over. We’re really happy about that. We do that only one time a year now for graduation (at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center).”
It’s a project that started with meetings and conversations two-and-a-half years. The Cypress Center has come a long way from concept to completion, and one thing makes it all worth it, King said.
“At the end of the day, the reason we’re doing this is the advocacy for the arts and what we can do for children in the arts,” King said. “Just to see them come through the doors … I can’t wait. To see the magic happen in the classrooms and on that stage … it’s going to beautiful.”
The Cypress Center will be open for families to tour on Tuesday, Aug. 14. An official, invitation-only, opening ceremony is set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12.