February 2024
It’s Built, and They’re Coming
Upgrades bring new opportunities for PHS students and local producers

In the 1990s the Ruth Street Theatre at Prescott High School had a well regarded theatre-arts program, putting on productions where students gained opportunities to learn the many skills needed to build, rehearse and produce shows. The lighting and sound equipment was at that time state-of-the-art, and several kids who went through PHS went on to successful careers in theatre, including Beth Lake, who is now a Broadway lighting designer in New York City. But the 1990s were 30 years ago, and the gear grew dated, no longer up to the task of providing students with relevant skills for working in the current world of stage production.

Just before the pandemic hit and turned everything upside down, several performing entities in Prescott approached then-district superintendent Jim Howard to propose upgrading the facility’s sound and lighting equipment so it could be both up-to-date and an additional venue capable of hosting local performing groups. Wanting someone with a connection to teaching who would prioritize the benefits of the upgrade for the students, Howard sought out Amy Van Winkle, just retired after 30 years teaching choral music, to take on the task of overseeing the renovation. Current Superintendent Clark Tenney is also very supportive, and Amy now serves as community theatre-arts events manager.

In the last year Phoenix-based companies Clearwing and Bluum have installed new lighting, sound and video-streaming systems, and trained four students to run the new equipment. Heidi Steinbeck, Kaitlin Moorhouse and Kayla Hobson have been training on lighting design, and Sarah Meyer has been training on front-of-house operations. More students are interested, and opportunities to apply these skills will increase as more outside groups rent the theatre.

“The goal is that in the next three to five years we will have a student work force that runs front of house, back of house, stage managing, sound and lighting, and set design and building. Students will be involved through drama, choir and band, and they will run the shows. Band kids that have been trained will run the choir concerts and vice versa. When there are collaborating renters (like AZ Philharmonic), the students can help with those shows as well. They get to work with people on a professional level.”

Ruth Street Theatre is pleased to bring back student-run productions in which students get training and are paid from rental fees. In addition to what they learn in-house, students can take a stagecraft course through the district’s Career Training Education program, where they learn to design and build stage sets.

Students have already been running some of the new equipment in productions such as the Prescott Youth Ballet Nutcracker and several AZ Philharmonic concerts. More opportunity for student involvement will come February 10, when Ruth Street will welcome the Beyondthelabels We’re Better Together Fashion Show featuring Madeline Stuart, a world-renowned model with Down Syndrome, and Keagan Sweeney, a nonverbal hoodie designer. Local nonprofits will be involved in this event celebrating inclusivity.

The future looks bright for Ruth Street as more groups book shows, and the more shows there are, the more hands-on experience PHS students will get. The investment in upgrading the sound and lighting equipment makes this possible. “I’m out spouting the mission and goals so that people understand why we’ve spent this money,” says Amy, “— to reconnect all of us.”

Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.

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