Theatrical vision full of life after 20 years

by Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon

THE 600-SEAT performance theatre is the showcase facility in the Sheboygan Lutheran High School Worship and Fine Arts Center expansion project, which was completed in late 2020. – Submitted photo

With one full year of hosting a wide range of events, activities and performances now under its belt, the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose Sheboygan Lutheran High School Worship and Fine Arts Center addition has proven to be everything students, staff, parents, leaders and community members hoped it would be, and more.

Forged as a conceptual vision for expansion of the school facility in the late 1990s, the building addition project over 20 years in the making officially opened last December with a string of Christmas Concerts.

According to eighth-year Sheboygan Lutheran High School Executive Director Paul Gnan, the Worship and Fine Arts Center has enjoyed a stellar debut year of operation.

“We have conceptual drawings of the fine arts center/theater from 1999 in my office,” Gnan said. “It had been a vision for our school leaders since Sheboygan Lutheran High school was formed in 1978. It took 18 months to construct.”

“The addition to our campus encompasses a performance theater, robotics lab, music instruction rooms and a conference room,” Gnan said. “We remodeled and expanded our original science rooms along with this project. They were totally gutted, enlarged and refitted with state-of-the-art technology and lab space. The robotics/advanced technology classroom is a unique space for building and programming of VEX robots, which are student-built robots that perform tasks and compete in the arena.  The room has a tiered classroom for computer programming/seating. Our new band & choir instruction room is equipped with a lot of technology components and the conference room/reception area is obviously multi-purpose. It is designed for easy flow with two entrances/exits on opposite ends of the room.”

In addition to the expanded and updated music, science robotic educational facilities, Gnan says the wide ranging community-oriented impact of the performance theater has been immeasurable during its first year of existence.

“The performance theatre is the crown jewel of the building addition,” Gnan said. “It is a 600-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art audio/visual technology with live stream capabilities. The theatre also includes dressing rooms, a set-construction area with storage, a beverage counter/mini-box office and large atrium for gathering before and after events. 

“Our auditorium is used for chapel twice a week for the students,” he said. “We have held drama productions, student and professional concerts, dance events, grade school performances and special worship events such as the Reformation Rally of Sheboygan County. We want to do youth and adult educational events in the space as well.”

Gnan says the Worship and Fine Arts Center falls perfectly in line with Sheboygan Lutheran High School’s educational, religious and community-oriented mission.

“Our mission is ‘Preparing Christian Leaders ~ One Student at a Time,’” Gnan said. “ Each student has a unique gift and talent from God that should be developed to serve and honor Him.  Academics, extra-curricular and after-school time should all work together for that good. By developing these gifts, we hope to create future leaders of the church and community.  The emphasis of the addition program was called ‘STEAM,’ or science/technology/ engineering/arts/ministry, which served as the emphasis of the improvements.  

“We hope to serve our community with multiple events that are and can be held in our building and on the grounds,” he said.

Since debuting in December 2020, Gnan says the performance schedule at the Worship and Fine Arts Center has featured a diverse spectrum of school, area, regional and national artists.

“We kicked off our first community event in December 2020 by hosting three Christmas concerts performed by our students,” Gnan said. “Last spring, we were blessed to host a special live streamed event that included our music program and the Concordia Chicago Wind Symphony that was viewed in 37 states and a few foreign countries. 

“The Sheboygan County Community Cancer Fund did a benefit concert with a national artist here this fall,” he said. “We have hosted three of six concerts in a series planned with Wisconsin Music Ventures, called ‘Rooted & Rising,’ featuring Wisconsin artists and various music genres.  

“A dance studio has rented our facility for performances, and community meetings and various family gatherings have also taken place at our new venue,” he said. “We also host a monthly Senior Citizen Bible Breakfast in the outer foyer.”

The first year of operation of the Sheboygan Lutheran High School Worship and Fine Arts Center recently came full circle with a pair of Christmas Concerts on Saturday, Dec. 18 and Sunday, Dec. 19.

“Typically, over half of our student-body are involved in the music program here at Lutheran High,” Gnan said. “We hosted our traditional Christmas concerts last weekend with performances by the Chamber and Concert Choirs along with the Symphonic Band. They were all directed by Matthew Thiel, who is a gifted music teacher and alumnus of our school.”

Going forward, Gnan said the Sheboygan Lutheran High School Worship and Fine Arts Center will continue to be a showcase venue for a wide array of performances.

“More concerts hosted by the Community Cancer Fund, our Rooted and Rising Series, and community educational awareness nights, plays and concerts by local community groups, as well as our school community are being planned at the Performing Arts Theater in the future,” Gnan said. “We are excited to expand the offerings that will be held by the community in our facility. The Performing Arts Theatre and Conference Room are available for rent and information can be found on our website,”

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