It’s Time: A Conversation with Elsa Limbach about the Falk Auditorium Renovation

Recently, we sat down with Elsa Limbach, professional dancer and choreographer, WT trustee and parent, and chair of WT’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, to talk with her about the impending renovation of Falk Auditorium.

Elsa Limbach Why do you think the performing arts are so important?

Performance is a real life experience, taking place in real time. Even for the most polished professional, every performance is unique. For our students, the performing arts, like sports, means being completely present in the moment and doing your best to be totally on your game.

Working in the performing arts gives our students confidence and poise, which I believe is especially important in a world filled with electronics and interpersonal contacted mediated by machines.

The arts are all about creative problem solving. It might be searching for the manner of speech and physical attitude that will bring a character to life, or exploring the manipulation of gesture and movement to build a choreographic mood. It is the hours of rehearsal necessary to blend voices and instruments in harmony, and the subtle details of costumes, lighting, and set design that suggest a familiar, historic, or imagined time and place.

And, just as important are the relationships. The performing arts demand working together as an ensemble—both on the stage, in the orchestra pit, and behind the scenes. It is a most valuable lesson: good performances are impossible without mutual respect and cooperation. The inspired collaboration is much greater than the sum of its parts.

In all of its complexity, drama, and beauty, artistic expression is truly one of the pinnacles of human endeavor—an extraordinary way to explore, express, and communicate.

The auditorium is going to be phenomenal. Which of the proposed renovations are you most excited about?

I am excited about the significant upgrade in theatrical technology. When Falk Auditorium was originally built, the stage lighting and sound system were typical for a school of its time. In the 50 years since then, lighting boards have become computerized, sound has gone digital, and video is not only for television studios. While we have made modest improvements along the way, this project will provide an enormous upgrade.

No longer will the sound and lights be run from a table squeezed behind the seats at the back of the auditorium, but in a real technical booth on a balcony above the entrance. There will be a number of new lighting positions, new lighting instruments, and a new dimmer panel to replace the one that is failing. The sound system will be replaced; new curtains will be hung onstage, allowing us to retire tattered old ones. Curtains will also be added to the back of the auditorium for better acoustics, adjustable depending on the type of performance. The opportunities for stage wizardry will be greatly enhanced. Our performing arts faculty and students have done wonders with so little, but I can’t wait to see what they will surprise us with next year.

It is important to remember that our performing arts program is about production and performance. Just as my own training in lighting and stage management came in handy in our home theater and on the road, students who dream of careers in the performing arts need to know about all aspects of production. We have students who live to be on stage and others who are making their debut. And, we have students who love to be behind the scenes, ensuring the light cue happens on time, the set change is smooth, and the costumes look fabulous. They will all benefit from this renovation project.

Why is this renovation so important and necessary?

The performing arts are a key component of the high quality education at WT. It is time to make a significant investment in the infrastructure of this important program, just as we did last year with the Athletics Wing. Our students deserve the best tools. And not only will we enhance the learning opportunities, the auditorium will be more comfortable for our audiences, and must more energy efficient.

Have your children participated?

I still remember my daughter on stage singing “Robin in the Rain,” and her roles as a swan, goose, fish, and frog in the Middle School musical, Honk. Now Karolina is oriented more toward the visual arts, but she is a big fan of her classmates who perform and work behind the scenes in the theater.

My nephew, Nikolay, better known for lacrosse, loved working with Mr. Holmes building sets. So while they haven’t followed me onto the stage, the performing arts at WT are certainly an important part of their lives.

Anything else…

Barbara Holmes was a young actress and I was a young dancer/choreographer when we met many years ago. We worked on several plays together. Our paths diverged for many years, but when our family came to WT, I was excited to reconnect and see the exceptional arts educator Barb had become. She has nurtured and inspired so many through the years. I am thrilled Barb, her students, and all of the performing arts faculty will have a wonderful “new” theater to work in next season.