My brief posting on the tragedy of Matthew Oskay’s death has gotten enough traffic, and enough clicks on the findarticle.com preview of the piece I wrote for Stage Directions that I thought that those mourning Mr. Oskay might appreciate being able to see the whole thing. I’d love to just scan the magazine pages and post those, but I don’t own the copyright to the issue, so I don’t think I can do that. Nonetheless, here is the full text of what I submitted to Stage Directions, before editorial added their own stylistic flourishes and before Mr. Oskay made one or two comments to the effect of, “I know you recorded me saying that, but what I actually meant to say was this…” As I said, the impression I got in my dealings with him was of a young man who loved what he did and who was thrilled to be living the life he had, and I tried to bring that out as much as I could, given that it was an article for a technical theatre magazine.
“To have this facility makes it a dream job,” explains Matthew Oskay, technical director of the Performing Arts Center at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indeed, the word that comes leaping to mind throughout the 100,0000 square foot comprehensive complex for the performing arts is, simply, wow.
Built in 1984 thanks to a boom in tax income, the Performing Arts Center boasts a 976-seat main auditorium with a 48×25 proscenium, 60 foot fly loft, and a Barton theater organ, 60×60 black box, fully-equipped scene shop, dance studio, piano lab, ensemble rooms, individual practice rooms, and a music library. Even at twenty-two years old, says Oskay, “I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do in this facility. It has all the bells and whistles you could ever want.” The high school itself is mammoth; at roughly a million square feet, according to Oskay, it is the largest four year (9-12) high school under one roof in the United States.
The stage lighting is managed via an ETC Expression 3 console, the house lights controlled with an AMX board. Also in the mainstage’s booth is a Panasonic Digital A/V mixer WJ-MX20 and a Midas Legend 3000. “The mixer’s very nice, and we’re getting new monitors,” Oskay says. “The reason for going with the Legend rather than the Yamaha M7CL or a digital board is that, from a teaching standpoint, analog is better. It has 40 channels, and it does have programmable scenes, which is great for a big show like Into the Woods. For that, everything was on a program.”
The mainstage’s acoustics, designed with input from faculty, has allowed Warren to stage plays like Noises Off without any amplification whatsoever. Musicals, done with a full orchestra, are a different matter: “For Into the Woods, we used all Shure Countryman E-6 body mics, with Shure ULX-P Bodypack transmitters. “High school students tend to be a little rough on the body mics, and I’ve found that the Shures withstand the best. They cost a lot, but they last longer and sound better. Plus, their gain before feedback is pretty amazing.”
The next big upgrade for the Warren mainstage will be for recording, projection and video. “We’re getting new LCD projectors so we can do more video. Everybody wants video and PowerPoint these days. We’re getting rack-mounted projector DVD players this summer. We’re slowly building it up.
“We’re going to hang retractable stereo microphones in the mainstage, and then that will go to a Alesis Masterlink digital recorder, from which we can easily burn CDs. Besides that, we’re good to go for the next ten to fifteen years.”
Oskay emphasizes the incomparable educational experience the Performing Arts Center provides. “When students graduate from here, the skill level they have because of the equipment they’re exposed to, the talent they’re exposed to, and this facility in general, is just amazing.
“The shows are run by the students all the way through. They run the sound board, the light board, they stage manage—everything is student run from the time we close the house to the time the show’s over. Unless there’s a big disaster, I just sit in the house and enjoy. There might be a mistake here and there, but it’s better for them to make a mistake and learn from it than for me to sit there and do it for them. We’ll work on it together during rehearsal, but they run it all. I try to set them up so they don’t fail.”
“The most valuable thing to us as students is that we get to do most of it,” says James Horban, a Warren senior. “It’s not just sitting in a classroom.” Justine Weed, also a senior, agrees: “There is a lot of ‘hands on’ in the shows. If you have questions, of course you can ask, but you still do it yourself.”
Both students will pursue technical theater post-high school as a result of their time at Warren. Says Horban: “Getting all the experience has been good because it’s showed us what we want to do. If we didn’t get to apply any of what we learned, we wouldn’t know if we wanted to do it as a career or not.”
“I’ve always known I wanted to be in theater,” concurs Weed, “but without the tech theater program here, I would have probably tried to act.”
“And that wouldn’t have been good for anybody,” chuckles Horban.
For the 2006-2007 school year, Aida is planned in the fall and Peter Pan in the spring, with M*A*S*H* scheduled for the black box. “We’re going to be flying people for Pan,” says Oskay. “I’ve talked to SFX, and I’ve talked to Foy, and I’ve talked to myself, and we’re going to rent the flying harness. We could do it ourselves better and more cheaply, but from a liability standpoint, it makes the most sense to rent. The real challenge is that it’s a huge show, set-wise, and we’re going to build it all ourselves. The other real challenge will be rehearsing the flying scenes.
“We’re going to try to keep Aida somewhat simple because Peter Pan will be so huge. Aida will be a lot about the lighting and sound. We’ll start building the elevator for it this summer. It won’t be complex—it’ll run off of a winch, hook into the raked stage, and go all the way to the basement.”
When asked about his dream show, Oskay replies without hesitation, “Les Miserables. We’d build a turntable, but we wouldn’t just emulate the Broadway production. I have my own ideas as to how we could do it. It’s too easy to just copy the Broadway version.” Is there any show he wouldn’t want to take on? “Peter Pan,” he laughs. “I will not do Grease!. I’d love to workshop a new musical here.”
“We have a lot of great stuff that I don’t mind sharing. We cross-rent with other area high schools. We even rent lights to some of the professional theaters, and that’s a pretty good moneymaker for us.”
The Center’s educational value is ultimately supreme for Oskay. “For a high school, we manage to compete with a lot of colleges, and I look at it very much as a college prep program. What I have here—you can’t match it.
“I value the fact that I have everything I need to teach. The facility speaks for itself. It’s about getting the kids to learn.
“Don’t limit yourself because you’re a high school.”