Drama, music and fine arts to get a new home at Pius XI High School

Groundbreaking took place this week on what will be the new home of the Pius XI performing arts programs.

Construction is underway to turn the school’s old gym into the Fr. Robert V. Carney Performing Arts Center.

Nearly $3 million in private donations were raised to build the center through a 10-year capital campaign project. The fundraising efforts began after construction of the Pius XI Fieldhouse was completed in 2004, providing a new home for the school’s athletic teams and other activities.

The centerpiece of the new space is the 500-seat Wendy Lindsey Theater which will be capable of hosting large-scare, annual productions.

“It’s going to be spectacular,” says Pius drama teacher Kevin Schwartz. “Performing arts has long been a draw here. Kids come here, they sign up for acting classes because they’re eager, they’re excited and they want to try something different. We have a real strong freshman and sophomore class and those kids will be on that new stage in a year. It’s going to be an awful lot of fun for them.”

In recent years, the school had been staging performances Downtown at The Pabst Theater. Though it was a special experience for the students to perform in such a well-known and historic venue, it caused some logistical problems and added to the budget.

“We’d have to rehearse (at Pius), build the set here then break it down completely, transport it in two trucks and set it all up again,” Schwartz says. “The kids would get two rehearse in before they were in front of an audience.

“You learn a lot from that kind of experience but it’s probably not the way to get the best performance possible from your students.”

Along with the performance space, the new theater will also have a costume shop, scene shop and storage areas. Students in the school’s visual arts courses will also benefit from new exhibit space in the lobby areas.

“We’re really excited,” Schwartz says. “This is ten years in the planning. The Fieldhouse was supposed to be the first piece and the performing arts center was supposed to follow closely. Unfortunately, there was a little longer distance between the two of them but sometimes, with a longer journey, it’s a little more worthwhile when you get there.

The facility is named in honor of Fr. Robert Carney, SAC. Fr. Carney spent his entire priesthood at Pius XI, serving as a theology teacher and chaplain and also started the school’s Big Buddy Program, which eases the the transition for freshman by teaming them up with seniors for a weekly meeting.

He was also an avid supporter of the school’s performing arts programs; a regular fixture at performances of any kind.

“Father Carney knew the names and recognized the faces of virtually every faculty member, student and alum,” the school’s principal, Dr. Melinda Skrade, says.

“His genuine interest in the well-being of each individual is one of the cornerstones of Pius XI. In addition, Father Carney attended nearly every performance, concert and event we produced. Because of his unwavering commitment and service the Pius XI family, the new performing arts center will bear his name.”

Construction is expected to take approximately nine months.

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