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Ghosts take stage in new theater

Shakespeare’s Scottish play is the first production in seven years for Newport Harbor High School.

March 01, 2010|By Julie Hagy

Victorian-style dresses, three-piece suits, sour straw candy and the scent of hair spray fill the backrooms of the Robert B. Wentz Theatre at Newport Harbor High School.

It is an hour before the curtain goes up on closing night of the first production to be staged in the newly built New Loats Performing Arts Center. Student performers are getting into costume. The 500-seat auditorium is starting to fill. Yet not a word about the play is being spoken.

“It’s a cursed play,” said drama teacher Gail Brower-Nedler, who has been teaching at Newport Harbor for 25 years.

Legend has it that saying the title will bring ill luck to the cast and crew.

“Anyone involved in the performance cannot say the name of it inside the theater,” she said. “If they do, they’ve got to walk outside, circle around three times and spit.”

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It’s raining outside. The word “Macbeth” is nowhere to be heard or seen, except on the program.

Newport Harbor’s former theater closed in 2003, when it was deemed seismically unsound. It was rebuilt as part of a $55.5-million construction project, along with Robins Hall, an addition with administrative offices and academic classrooms.

Seven and a half years later, the Robert B. Wentz Theatre — named after a former Newport Harbor drama teacher — has opened as a district theater for Newport Harbor, Corona del Mar, Estancia and Costa Mesa high schools.

“It’s Harbor Pride to be back,” said Senior Jeff Fichtner, 18, who plays Banquo. “I worked in the theater in sixth grade, and have waited eight years to walk on the stage again. It’s so humbling and powerful,” he said.

Construction on the theater was finished three weeks ago, and Brower-Nedler and students moved into it from an on-campus portable classroom.

“When we’re on our own campus, students, parents and community members come. We’ve been nomads. It’s been tough,” Brower-Nedler said.

Besides the 40-by-40-foot main stage, the complex has an expansive lobby, ticket booth, concession area, two dressing rooms, music library, set construction room complete with garage doors, choral practice room, green room, orchestra pit, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, and a black-box performance area.

The entire facility is handicapped-accessible.

The walls smell of new paint.

Jessica Bento, 18, a senior who works as the stage manager assistant and light designer, is measuring success in the number of seats filled in the auditorium.

“It’s filling more every night,” she said.

Senior Katie Escher, 17, is playing Witch No. 1. Her eyes have flames of pink makeup beneath them.

“This is definitely the best theater we’ve been in,” Katie said. “It’s majestic.”

The curtains have closed on “Macbeth,” but Brower-Nedler’s students are already gearing up for their next production, “Into the Woods,” by Stephen Sondheim, which will run April 21 to 24, with shows at 7 nightly.

“As a senior, to get to do my last two shows here, it’s bittersweet,” Bento said. “We’re proud to be home.”


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