When her theater students pitched Rumors for their fall play, Joy Roche told them it had already been done — in 1995.
The teens' response?
"They said that was before they were born," said Roche, who has been teaching at Clearwater High since 1989.
Neil Simon's zany comedy won Clearwater High its first invitation to perform at the Florida State Thespian Festival. (They've been selected for the honor eight times since.)
Now, fittingly, Rumors will be first once again — this time, as the inaugural show in the school's newly renovated theater. The play runs tonight through Saturday; curtain time is 7:30 p.m.
Roche can't wait for the community to see — and hear — the difference the $1.5 million renovation has made.
We're talking new sound, lighting, curtains, carpeting, lobby — the works. The money came from capital improvement funds set aside 10 years ago, Roche said.
"Probably my No. 1 favorite thing is the acoustics," she said. "We had an old AC that hummed, and the noise would flow through these dilapidated old speakers."
Now a silent system cools the air in the 700-seat theater. The walls are lined with acoustic boarding to absorb sound. New speakers are aimed at every nook in the house. A state-of-the-art 40-channel soundboard means no more equipment rentals.
On Tuesday, two cases of headsets were being charged up for the hearing-impaired.
"We have a strong senior following," said Roche. "Actually, we have a strong community following. Parents and kids who have graduated continue to come back and see the plays."
Rumors will be well-lit, with a high-tech system that would make any thespian swoon. With the push of a button or slider, lights can change color, pattern, focus and intensity. A new rigging system allows stage lights to be raised and lowered for adjustments. Additional illumination comes from a new catwalk installed above the theater seats.
"It's enough to light any show we'd like to do," said Roche. "We have a lot to offer now to students who are interested in the technical aspects of theater production."
During the 14-month construction, a sprinkler system went off and ruined the existing stage floor, so the school received a new one.
A new, enclosed lobby houses concession and ticket rooms. Restrooms used to open right into the auditorium, with light and banging doors disrupting the plays. Now, new restrooms are off the new lobby, and there is also a restroom for disabled people and families with small children.
New wheelchair ramps and seating have been installed. An electronic platform elevates students who use wheelchairs for access to the stage.
The actors in Rumors will perform from an attractive two-story set that serves as the posh home of New York City's deputy mayor and his wife, who are celebrating their 10th anniversary. When four couples arrive for the dinner party, they learn the host has shot himself, his wife is missing, and there is no food to eat.
Complications and calamity result as they struggle to explain the mishaps to each other and to the police.
The student actors say the new theater was worth the wait, even though it meant a year of rehearsals in the school's courtyard, chorus room, or wherever they found the space. It also meant nomadic performances at three different schools and a nearby church.
Senior Briland Farnell, 17, plays the role of Ernie Cusack, a shrink and a guest at the party. Briland hopes to be a drama teacher one day and said he's glad his last year will be spent in the revamped theater.
"It's a blessing," he said. "This is a much more professional atmosphere."
Sophia Constantini, also 17, plays his wife, Cookie.
"It's like breathing new air," she said. "It's a real privilege to perform here."
Contact Terri Bryce Reeves at email@example.com