Francis W. Parker School to open revamped auditorium

Aspiring actress Leah Koch, 16, has given performances in conference rooms, playgrounds and hallways at Frances W. Parker School in Lincoln Park.

While the school’s auditorium has been undergoing renovations for the last 18 months, Koch and the school’s Fourth Wall Theater Company have learned to improvise.

“It has certainly made us think outside of the box,” Koch says.

But in March, Koch and her fellow student thespians won’t have to improvise any longer.

On March 7, the school’s revamped $3 million auditorium will open, with singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow taking the stage for the first performance.

It will be a big change for Parker, which relied on the old auditorium at least three times a week.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the school has morning exercises, which are short assemblies allowing students to learn something outside of the classroom.

Throughout its 108-year history, the school has had many notable speakers at morning exercises, including Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein and President Barak Obama, who was a U.S. senator at the time, says Principal Dan Frank.

But as the student body grew, it became increasingly difficult to squeeze everyone into the auditorium, Frank says.

The new auditorium seats 1,100, nearly double the old one. Instead of one level of seating, the auditorium will now have a balcony, as well as a new sound system and recording studio.

The new auditorium was made possible through a donation from Diane and Dave B. Heller, which it will be named after. The couple recently donated $5 million to the school.

The auditorium is the capstone to a major rebuilding at Parker, which began an $89 million fundraising push in 1998.

While half of the money went to scholarships, the other half has gone toward a new library, gym, math and science wing and visual and performing arts center and renovation of a cafeteria and the math and science wing.

Koch says she likes those changes. But it’s the auditorium she’s been really waiting for.

“It’ll make a huge difference in the theater. It will be nice to have everyone seated,” Koch says “And I am looking forward to graduation in the auditorium, not the gym.”