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SCA hosts ACT event

ACT staff and Solon theater tech students collaborate on live event.
Keith Düster inspects the work of Solon High School students as the prepare backdrops for use during an ACT company meeting held Oct. 19 at the Solon Center for the Arts. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– Solon’s Center for the Arts (SCA) has been a busy venue since it opened last spring with “Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” performed by a cast of 120 students from middle to high school with technical support from 20 crew members.
From January through November, the facility hosted more than a dozen events, including several vocal and band concerts, award-winning singer and jazz bassist Katie Thiroux, and most recently, a second Disney musical, Mary Poppins.
But on Oct. 19, the spotlight shifted from those showing off their acting and musical chops, to the skills and efforts of those working behind the scenes to ensure a successful show.
A different kind of event was booked at the SCA when ACT, the Iowa City-based company renowned for developing college admissions tests, approached the Solon Community School District about holding its annual meeting there.
“They heard about this new facility and said, ‘We’re a company that provides testing to students. Students are at the heart of our motto and creed. Why don’t we try it at a student-run facility?’” recalled Keith Düster, who teaches building technology at Solon.
Principal Communications Strategist for ACT, Jim Hussey emphasized the appropriateness of ACT holding their meeting at the SCA when he and colleague Nicole Kroul spoke to Solon school board members at the Nov. 13 meeting.
“Solon’s vision is to graduate each and every student prepared for post-secondary success,” Hussey observed during the meeting. “And the ACT mission is helping people achieve education and workplace success. We could not even imagine being more tightly aligned in terms of what we try to accomplish and what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Düster said when representatives from ACT toured the SCA, they determined the size and scale was just right for their meeting. They also loved the idea of students from Düster’s theater tech class benefitting from a hands-on learning experience requiring them to collaborate with ACT staff on running the soundboard, lights and cameras for a live event.
“ACT was very much involved in prepping the kids,” said Düster. “The new tech theater class met the first quarter every day, so I was teaching kids how do you hang lights, how do you focus lights, how do we load things onto the fly system, how do we run the sound board. ACT came in for four classes beforehand and brought their run of show.”
Hosting a live event before an audience of over 1,000, including ACT employees attending remotely through Skype, was a substantial logistical undertaking.
“We had live cameras, 28 wireless microphones for the speakers, and it was a two-hour event,” said Düster.
“Your students were truly spectacular,” said Hussey. “We were really conscious at the very beginning of making sure this was an educational experience for them. And over the course of those weeks they learned a lot.”
He added, “Your mission is to be an educational institution, not a conference center. So we spent a lot of time trying to take what we knew and share it with them and learn from what they had to share with us.”
Hussey praised Solon students for the professionalism they brought to the project of staging the ACT meeting. “They just picked it up and within the first day they were telling me what to do and how to do it. And it wasn’t because they were arrogant, they just knew,” he said. “You should be proud of the work that they were able to pull off.”
Bringing together a mix of equipment, technical know-how and passion, ACT and Solon students worked together to make this year’s company meeting a resounding success.
“In the past we had invested to hire out those resources when we hosted the meeting at places like the Marriott,” noted Senior Internal Communications Specialist at ACT Nicole Kroul. “This time, doing it here meant on the AV side we took on a lot more responsibility, but your students and your staff here really helped us with everything.
“We came in four or five Fridays in a row and met during your block scheduling, which worked out great for us to have enough time and worked through all the kinks with your students. They were just phenomenal to work with.”
As was their teacher, she said.
“Mr. Düster was a huge asset. We literally could not have done it without him,” Kroul added.
Instead of paying a production company a significant sum to provide technical support for the meeting, this year ACT made a donation to the school. Düster said the funds will go right back to benefit the kids. “That’s the idea­, get some new microphones, get some different sound system things, buy some new lights and other useful stuff.”
Düster believes Solon students learned two important things from the ACT gig.
“One was an experience outside of the teachers and myself telling them, ‘Here’s what were going to do, here’s the idea for the show,’” he explained. “It was an outside professional group requesting things, which is just a level we can’t always give them in the schools, so that was a nice opportunity.
“The second thing they learned is it’s stressful to do a live show. It’s one thing to do a performance for your parents and for the community, which is what this is when we do a musical. But this was for people that weren’t connected to the school district, so the level of quality was kind of up a notch, which was fantastic,” said Düster.
Events like the ACT meeting offer the kinds of hands-on experiences Düster and the school board hoped the SCA would make possible, getting the students in the space and using it as a learning lab.
“My intent from the beginning and coordinating with district has been use the facility as much as possible and, then in addition to that, have the kids participate in it as much as possible,” said Düster. “It took many, many years to get to this point where we have this kind of a space. And to have it sit idle would just be sad. So the more activity there is, the better… just people in here doing whatever it is, rehearsing, or doing a musical, or having a small touring show come in, or anything to get the kids hands-on involved.”
Following methodology used in the field of measurement, Hussey provided impressive statistics to convey feedback from the ACT community. A post-meeting survey of attendees captured a 69.8 percent response rate from roughly 1,000 people.
“From a content perspective, the part that we were responsible for, 90 percent of the people liked what they heard,” Hussey said. “From a logistical perspective, in terms of the physical space here in Solon, the sight line, the comfort, everything else about the meeting, literally 99 percent of the people loved what they had here at Solon. So you should be very, very proud of your institution and everything that was done… We might be knocking on your door again before too long.”