CVU auditorium unveiled for Pirates of Penzance (11/5/09)

Nov. 5, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With a cue from an assistant director situated stage right, about 30 Champlain Valley Union High School students erupted into well-choreographed chaos. Stage swords in hand, the students paired off into an epic battle on the CVU auditorium stage.


    Courtesy photo by Kathy Bresee
Daughters of an influential major-general surround Frederick, a pirate apprentice played by Adriel Miles, during a dress rehearsal of ‘Pirates of Penzance, BVI’ on Tuesday evening. The Champlain Valley Union High musical opens Thursday at the school’s auditorium.

The shouts and clanging of swords came in preparation of the Thursday debut of “Pirates of Penzance” — the first musical in CVU’s renovated auditorium.

Having a revamped auditorium gives the production more of a professional feel, directors and student actors said.

“It feels modern,” said Justin Small, a Shelburne senior. “It finally feels like we’re performing in a real theater.”

“Pirates of Penzance, BVI,” adapted from a play written more than 100 years ago by British playwrights William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, is a comedy operetta focusing on Frederic, a pirate apprentice who falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of an influential major general. Complications ensue when the pirates don’t want to lose Frederic as an apprentice.

Director Sebastian Ryder said the renovations are a long time coming and it’s been exciting to develop the musical with the improvements. But first and foremost, the renovated auditorium is no longer dangerous for students working on the stage and in production.

“It puts my mind at ease that it’s infinitely safer for students,” said Ryder, who is also CVU’s drama director.

“If you fall off the catwalk, you have to try really, really hard,” she added.

For the past 40 years, the CVU auditorium had little in the way of improvements. It missed out on the school’s massive renovations in 2003, settling for new seats in 2005.

Last school year, the school administration, along with a parent group, lobbied the CVU School Board to allocate funds for renovations. Initially, the board was hesitant to agree to a major construction project during the economic recession. In the end, the board was able to find money to make the project happen, with voter approval.

Initially, the estimated $2.5 million project was to be completed in two phases. But costs came in far below estimates at $1.4 million. Construction began in June and finished in September. Berlin-based Summit/Catamount Construction handled the entire renovation.

Audiences attending “Pirates” will notice many changes. A box office has been built outside the auditorium and a larger technical booth is now set back from the audience seating.

Most noticeable may be the orchestra pit. No longer are musicians relegated to an upstairs closet located stage right. Now, the orchestra sits below the stage and has room for 22 musicians. CVU music teacher and orchestra director Andy Miskavage said the actors will hear the music much better, allowing for a seamless blend of performance and sound.

“The entire audience will also have a fantastic audio experience,” Miskavage said.

Sasha Torrens-Sperry, a Shelburne junior and one of the play’s leads, said the music and performances drive “Pirates.” A former orchestra member, she’s excited to hear the improvements.

“As a musician, I can really appreciate this,” Torrens-Sperry said.

Ryder said she chose “Pirates” for this fall’s CVU musical for two reasons: The songs are orchestra driven and perfect for the auditorium’s new design, and the play is historically significant. CVU Drama first performed the musical in 1971, when the auditorium was relatively new.

Ryder has had a lot of help putting on the production. CVU art teacher Tim Duvernoy is back as production designer, building a large pirate ship set. Returning as costume designer and assistant director is Joann Frymire, an adult volunteer who is joined by her daughter, CVU paraeducator Erin Frymire.

Erin Frymire, a Williston resident and 2005 CVU graduate, choreographed many of the fight scenes and songs. It’s a whole new experience working in the renovated auditorium, which is completely different from the one she worked in as a student.

“I’m actually a little jealous,” Frymire said with a laugh.

The cast, crew and orchestra are looking forward to Thursday, expecting to give audiences a show to remember.

“I think the audience will really enjoy the music and the fight scenes and the romance,” Shelburne junior Adriel Miles said.


Performances for “Pirates of Penzance” are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5 and Friday, Nov. 6, and at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults.