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Facilities: Designing a school Auditorium

Here at long last is the compilation of responses I received regarding
staging concerns for a new auditorium. Below is my original query followed
by the responses. Thank you so much to all who took the time to offer
their wisdom and experience!

Kathy Graber
The original post:
I am sure this subject has been addressed before, but I guess I don't pay
much attention until it becomes relevant to me. I am faced with the nice
possibility of a having a new (small) auditorium being built in our school
district, and the inevitable reality of keeping it within budget. My
superintendent approached me today wanting an idea of what I would need for
the stage area, and I must admit I am clueless. We currently give all of
our concerts and productions in a gym, so I have very little experience
when faced with auditorium options. We are a very small school district
with a fairly active music program and good community support. The
auditorium would be used for concert choir and band performances (including
show choir/jazz band performances), as well as our high school musicals and
plays. I want to make sure we have enough stage and wing space to
accomodate these performances, but how much is enough? And what
stage-related items are a must have? (For instance, a full fly would be
nice, but is probably not necessary for the scale of productions we do.)
Are there considerations that are commonly overlooked? I would welcome any
suggestions or recommendations the list might have to offer. As always,
please reply directly to me, and I will post a compilation if there is

Thank you!
Kathy Graber
Vocal Director
Harris-Lake Park HS
Lake Park, IA
The responses:

Contact Wenger. They have a whole list of guidelines and specifications.
Also, look into MENC....I had thought they had a brouchure about this.
The band usually takes up the most room when using a stage. If you are
looking to figure out the square footage, measure how much room the band
uses on the gym floor and figure that into your request. Space in the
wings and above the stage for a small school is an expensive proposition,
but request it anyway! They will seek to compromise with you and give you
at least adequate fly space for your needs and you might get get all the
room you need off stage just cause it doesn't cost as much. Be sure to
prioritize your needs so they don't cut the wrong thing as they plan.
Good Luck!
I am a first year teacher in a small district . . .I can tell you the
problems we have with our new stage in our new elem. bldg. so that
hopefully you won't have to go through them.
1. Make sure you have wing space so you have somewhere for kids to be.
Storage space on ground level (even in the wings or across the hall) is a
good thing, but storage above the wings is good too if you have a pully
system installed so you can hoist things above. We have storage above, but
no way to get things up there except a caged in ladder - how do you get a
couch up a caged in ladder??
2. An elevator to stage level is a necessity. Not only does it make the
stage handicap accessible, it is also easier to move equipment, risers,
choral shells, etc.
3. Curtains should be hung on a pully system so that they can be raised
and lowered when necessary. You may want to lower curtains for plays to
compensate for the height of the set or raise them up because of staging.
4. Lighting and sound should be hired out to a professional. We have done
that, but we still have lights that barely reach the first 5 feet of the
stage becuase they are hung directly to the ceiling and the curtains hang
too low, getting in the way of the light beam. Make sure you don't skimp
on sound - get wireless lapel microphones that the actors can use and
you'll want some wireless handhelds if you want show choir soloists to be
able to move around freely.
I hope this helps. These are just things that I don't like about the new
stage we have. As far as size is concerned, you would be most happy with
1/2 of the stage size used for wing space on each side. This gives you
ample room for set pieces that need to travel on and off as well as cast
members. Use whatever you can afford for space on stage - you can always
make due with smaller wings, add more lighting later, make improvements,
you just have to take these things into consideration when designing your
sets and shows.
I think that there is some sort of book issued by MENC that may address
your question. I don't know the title nor the author, but certainly you
could get this information from their resources page on the MENC website.
Good luck.
I have 2 parts of advice for you. I hope it's helpful.
1. We recently built a new music room for our church and were also
constricted to a budget. We tried numerous plans to stay within the
budget, and all the rooms we came up with were inadequate. I finally
told them I would rather stick with the lousy room we had rather than
spend all that money on a room that didn't meet our needs.
We then decided to see what our need were FIRST, and design a room around
those criteria, and THEN figure out what it cost. Needless to say, it
cost a lot more, but it's a fantastic room, and everyone loves it. It's
something the entire church is very proud of.
The basic philosophy: You will NEVER regret spending more money for
quality, but you'll be VERY LUCKY if you go cheap and are satisfied with
2. I was asked to design the music room, and my lack of knowledge was a
problem. I went to numerous churches, colleges, schools and offices to
gather as much information as I could on the things that were important
to us: lighting, acoustics, sound dampening between the music room and
the sanctuary, overall shape, flooring, wall covering, etc. It was a LOT
of leg work, but worth every minute. We tried lots of shapes and room
designs, and discussed the pros and cons of each, and eventually came up
with a supurb design.
I suggest you visit other auditoriums, speak with their users and see
what they like or don't like about it, consider acoustics, lighting
needs, flexibility, future expandability, pit orchestra possibilities,
and anything else of concern. Is there the possibility that other
community groups will use the auditorium? Is there a chance there will
be a band festival combining several bands on stage? Consider all the
I will help you as much as I possibly can. Let me know how much info you
would like. First off, I am a first year teacher but have had a lot of
auditorium experience and worked in many different settings. Fly is great!
My school does not have it, and I miss it. I don't even have wing space.
So if you have fly, you could have smaller wing space because you would be
able to store sets in the loft. If you do not have fly, be sure to leave
yourself adequate amount of wing space because that is the only place to
store your sets. Plus it gives you room to also work on your sets, or a
place to hold a choir while another is on stage, or store risers, stage
tables, etc... Its a good idea to have a roll up garage type door off one
wing. If it is ground level, great! If not, make a ramp on one side,
stairs on the other, make it like a loading dock. Some day you may want to
carry in something big, and it wont fit though a door, or even a double
On stage it is nice to have at least three leg curtains, a few border
curtains, one main curtain, and possibly an intermission curtain (personal
preference, but most have them), as well as an up-stage black curtain, just
in front of the back wall. This may also be personal preference, but make
sure you have a 'Sky wall'. That is the only term I have known. That is
the up-stage wall. It is painted barely off white toward a blue I believe,
but to everyones eye it looks white. Reason, any light you shine on it,
the wall absorbs that color and turns that color. It is a nice background.

If you have a pit band for your musical, get a pit, otherwise you will
have to find somewhere else to put them year after year.
Lights: Behind each border curtain (short curtains that hang down and
hide the lights, electrics, etc... hang down usually about 4 feet, or
more, I am not exactly sure. Behind each one, at least three electrics,
strip lights, and battons so you can hang other lights on them. Have a
Beam for sure. The Beam is the lights that span the width of the
auditorium usually, above the audiences' head, and usually above the
ceeling so it is hidden. The Beam is where you hang lights. There is a
cat walk up there going across for light accessability. Type of lights,
Ellipsoidals, and Fresnels could make up the majority of your hanging
lights. Maybe a few Par cans for more general lighting and flooding. You
probably have this already, I am giving you more info than that which you
Green room: Great advantage to having a green room. Nice place for it
is actually behind the sky wall. One long room with male and female
restrooms on each side, make up mirrors in between with places to hang
costumes, etc... I have to use my choir room as a green room this year, it
should be interesting???
If you happen to have room for a loft stage right or left, it would be a
nice place to store sets on the off season.
Accustic's: Have a say so in the accustial space of the auditorium, and
how it may be built. Or at least have a way of compensating with house
It would be a guess, but I would say at least have 1/4-1/2 a stage width
wing space on one side. I have more info, but I am over loading this
e-mail... general info. the list is really endless as you know. I hope
this helps some, it may, may not... I am sorry if it does not. I just do
not want you to be unhappy with the facility. It is so nice to have a
great auditorium. Good luck, need anything, I will help however I can and
I am usually not this long winded.
I suggest you get in touch with the Wenger Corporation. They have good
materials that explain Square footage, auxiliary space, etc.
Contact the MENC in Reston, VA and order the latest version of their book
"Music Facilities: Equipping, Building and Renovating".
I'm a professional actor/director/stage technician with 30+ years
experience. Funny you should ask what's needed for an auditiorium, as my
wife (choir director) has just opened the newest high school here in
Virginia Beach (number 11, with 2000+ students). Nobody thought to ask
anyone who knows what the new auditorium would need, or how it should be
designed. As a result they have a seating capacity of about 625 (they
needed 1200), no wing space, no fly space, not enough electric lines onstage
to light the stage correctly, too much apron space, a poorly designed pit,
not enough depth onstage, no "cyc" upstage, a loading dock door in the wrong
place, and lighting that poorly lights the front of the stage. All this
after building a school worth over $42 million.
So........ I would suggest you make sure that you HAVE a counterweighted fly
section that EVERYTHING is hung from, a pit that is at least partially
located under the stage, wing space (stage right and left) that's at least
1/2 as wide as the stage floor, depth that's 2/3 as deep as the width, that
the entire auditorium's painted black (floor, walls, etc.), decent lighting
and sound, that the sound and light boards are in an elevated room at the
rear of the auditorium, that there are loading dock doors in the rear of the
stage to make load in/out easier, etc. etc. etc.
I know that this might seem like a lot, but realize you can then make the
space available to the community at large (for a rental price of course!)
year round.
ANYTHING you do theatrically on that stage will be significantly
easier if you have decent fly space and plenty of rigging. It is
relatively cheap as part of new construction, but will never be added
later as part of any renovation years down the road. You also want to
make sure that doors leading to and from the stage are tall enough
and wide enough to accommodate anything you might want to bring on
Nearly everything we have done on our stage has been compromised
because of having no fly space. I also have doors that are not wide
enough for me to roll a small grand piano through, so our concerts
have to be accompanied with a crummy upright.
About 16 years ago we had a major renovation to the auditorium, but
the stage is still as it was. About 3 years ago we had a new music
suite added to the building, but the stage is still as it was.
I'm retiring at the end of this school year, and I regret that I am
not able to leave my successor with a decent stage.
If anything - OVERDO the wing space!
We are currently in the process of building an auditorium and
music wing as well. Van Buren is a small school district
(approximately 800-900 students K-12) with a strong music
program. I came into the program a year ago, so most of the pre-
planning of the auditorium was already underway.
We have found that an inclusion of fly space is necessary,
regardless of the size of the program. Near the beginning of the
year, we [the band director, staff members, the superintendant, and
I] visited various auditoriums around the area and found that those
that did not build at least the fly space in the first place could not
easily add it on when they found it a necessity.
If it is necessary for you to build small, I suggest that you attempt
to build the space as high as possible. Also, if you have to
compromise and not have fly space, you should then request a
great deal of wing and back stage space. Rough numbers would
include, for example... 40 ft. of stage space (length), 15-20 ft. of
wing space (on each side of the stage) and approximately 40-50 ft.
of stage space (depth.) This allows you to run curtains in a circular
sequence (I think the name for them is runners) so that, during
stage productions with sets and backdrops, you can set up one
scene while the other scene is happening on the stage in front of
the runner. (This may not be explained terribly well, but hopefully
you get the general idea.) Our auditorum will seat app.750
In the best of all possible worlds you should try to have enough wing
space to accomodate half of a set on each side (perhaps 20' per side).
A fly system would be very helpful even if you don't think that you
need it at the moment. Needless to say, should it be desirable in the
future it would be unrealistic to expect your school district to fund
its addition. Also, fly space can help if you don't end up with much
wing space.
You did not mention lighting or sound concerns but I encourage you to
pursue these with great vigor. Lighting and sound can add so much to
any presentation and are usually the elements that the architects
know very little about. Most lighting and sound installation
companies can provide adequate resources in terms of designing your
systems. Also, the hiring of a theatre consultant can be of
assistance in the design phase.
I know this is more than you have asked for but experience has shown
me that with proper design, these elements can only enhance your
programs impact...not addressing them can impact negatively.
Our stage is in the "commons area". It opens into a carpeted room, with the
concession stand being operated in this area also. This is NOT a good idea
because of food stains and extra traffic during game nights. This area is
also the area where high school students wait before school and during
Our staging area, has VERY limited storage space. Backstage, off the left
side, we have a sink and countertop 4 cabinets long. We store tools and
painting supplies there. We have 4 drawers which hold more hardware and
supplies. On the right side, we have a SMALL loft - approximately 4' wide
and 6' long to store mainly furniture. There is not a ladder or easy way to
climb to the loft because it is over an exit stairwell at the back of the
stage. I frequently ask a student to climb up there for me.
Our light booth, is at the back of the "commons area" and the only way to
get to it is to walk out of the commons area and enter through the gym.
Very Bad planning! It is horrible to try and communicate with them when you
are working during rehearsals. If you are by yourself, it is lots of
walking and I forget what number lights I am supposed to change.
We can fit about 50-60 7 & 8th Graders on the stage using 6 risers w/ 3
steps each. They do fill up the stage, but we are not uncomfortable yet.
We did "Wizard of Oz" last year and it did get crowded with all the sets &
people. We had a cast of 40 elementary students as munchkins and it was
difficult to find space for them backstage and to be seen on stage. We did
make it work - they did a lot of waiting in the hallways and walking quickly
to their spots during scene changes. Our middle school band is about 40
students and they fit nicely also. The biggest thing I struggle with is the
sound. We do not have shells and the sound goes up not out. We are
supposed to be buying microphones for the stage every year (I found this out
this year), but that had not been happening. I think this will make a
difference when we have the back row mics.

on February 28, 2003 10:00pm
Thank you for the interesting information. I guess we all have similar problems. I teach at a co-educational school in Cape Town, South Africa, which has +/- 920 learners, of all races and creeds. We have an excellent Music Department, four full time teachers and 7 part-time teachers. We teach the piano, recorder, saxophone, clarinet, violin, cello, guitar, singing, flute and also teach complete grade 2 and 3 classes the recorder, i.e. some 240 children, age 7 - 9, there are two choirs, 8 - 9 years and 10 - 13 years, a junior and senior choir, wind band, orchestra, Orff both junior and senior classes, recorder ensemble. At present we are trying to come up with a scheme to build an auditorium which will be part of our project for the 50th anniversary of the school. We have looked at other similar projects and are meeting again on Tuesday, 4th March. Our biggest stumbling block is of course finances, which I guess is a problem which faces many others with these ideas. It is our intention to service the whole community. By the way I forgot to mention that we also have staff who go to one of our less privileged schools and teach choir and recorder to their learners. There is also an African Music, drama and Arts department and modern dancing at our school. We would dearly love to present programmes at all levels as well as let out the auditorium to private concerns for lectures, master classes, art exhibitions, etc. We do have a school hall but this is in such demand and so we do need another more appropriate venue.
Do you have any ideas or strategies we could follow to assist us in funding this project? There is no doubt that many people from all walks of life will benefit from this venture.
I look forward to hearing from you.
My e-mail address is
Ph. 27-21-712-3081 extension 211 or 27-21-701-87892