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Lysistrata, Aristophanes' comedy in which Greek women from all sides of the Peloponnesian War withhold sex from their husbands until they agree to stop fighting, could, in a pinch, be staged today at the performing arts center being built at Menlo-Atherton High School.
We are embroiled in an unpopular war, M-A's stage is raised and flat, rows of concrete steps provide seating, daylight streams through empty doorway cavities, and the walls enclose and carry sound.
That would have been enough in Athens 2,400 years ago, but today's audiences want more. And they will get it in this new performance venue scheduled to open on the campus in the fall of 2009 at an estimated cost to local taxpayers of $32 million.
The architects are Culver City-based Hodgetts + Fung Design and Architecture, which also designed a canopy for the Hollywood Bowl and an 18,000-seat amphitheater for the Minnesota Orchestra. Acoustics are by the engineer who redid Severance Hall in Cleveland and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Inside the building's shell, with its sweeping roof lines and exposed beams, M-A's theater will have comfortable seating for 494 and a 63-foot-high tower for storing and lowering backdrops to the stage.
These elements are still in the works, but the public is invited to tour the unfinished building at Middlefield Road and Ravenswood Avenue in Atherton between 3 and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21, said school spokeswoman Marci Coggins.
The M-A jazz band will be on hand, with vocal accompaniment, Ms. Coggins said. The tour will include a look at the software used to visualize the building in three dimensions ahead of actual construction.
Principal funding for the project is coming from voter-approved construction bonds for the Sequoia Union High School District. The city of Menlo Park is contributing up to $2.6 million, which buys the city rights to use the theater when the school is not planning to use it.
While the footprint of the building is 20,000 square feet, the total floor area inside is 32,000 square feet, including an orchestra pit/stage apron, a rehearsal room, three practice rooms, storage for musical instruments, a multi-purpose room and a steam-table "cold kitchen."
A world-class design
Unlike the 500-seat, 27,300-square-foot performing arts center built for $16.5 million at Woodside High in 2005, the design for M-A's $32 million theater is the result of a juried competition.
The 78 percent increase from M-A's original $18 million estimate was due to worldwide demand for materials, higher energy costs, wage escalations in the construction industry and soft costs — architectural and construction-management fees — former assistant superintendent Ed LaVigne said last year.
The high price tag implicit in hiring a major architect and a renowned acoustics engineer brings perks. "You get a world-class design rather than a local architect's design," said Blach Construction's Ken Schroeder, the project manager.
Backlit acoustic panels at the M-A theater, for example, will bear a strong resemblance to sunlight filtering through oak trees. The laser-cut panels are based on photographic templates of sunlight filtering through real oak trees, Mr. Schroeder said.
Trees are a conscious element. The floor-to-ceiling glass entrance will face trees along Ringwood Avenue, with angled upper panels to redirect music during outdoor concerts in the sunken courtyard. The multi-use room in the rear also has tall glass doors to create an inside/outside patio, Mr. Schroeder said.
To see around virtual corners during construction, the project is using modeling software that detects clashes between, for example, the plumbing layout and the framing layout. "It has made it a lot easier to visualize how this building goes together," Mr. Schroeder said.
M-A's theater will have traditional touches. While Woodside's theater employs computerized winches to raise and lower backdrops, M-A's system is "student-friendly (and) manually operated," Mr. Schroeder said. Sweating students using block-and-tackle will do the lifting and the lowering.