THEN AND NOW
Tom Hanks, Teacher Appreciation,
& the Rebirth of the Skyline Theater
June 1, 2002, is a date that will be long remembered al Skyline High School. That evening marked the official completion of the renovation of the school's theater, and its rededication and re-naming as the Rawley T. Farnsworth Theater in the Selmer Berg Building al Skyline High. The celebration took the form of a Gala Reception and Performance for nearly 1000 guests, hosted by Tom Hanks and featuring the special efforts of over 200 performers and volunteers, the administration of Skyline and the Oakland public schools, and 50 local businesses.
Skyline shone that evening, and everyone went home happy. It was a welcome opportunity to celebrate the many positive things about the school. II was a pleasure to see the theater sparkle and shine, and so perfectly showcase the talent of the Skyline performers. It was a joy to welcome so many alumni and former faculty, as well as current Skyline families and staff, and witness their enjoyment of the setting, food, and show.
Only a couple of years ago, this facility would certainly not have been a place to have a party. Instead of flowers decorating the aisles there were lengths of yellow hazard tape blocking off unsafe seats. Instead of carpet there was peeling tile and decades of stuck-on chewing gum. A musty smell, dingy walls, and murky lighting didn't contribute to a party atmosphere.
Along with the rest of the school, Skyline's auditorium was built in 1962 and was suffering from the effects of heavy use and little maintenance when the PTSA Performing Arts Committee was founded in 1999. The Committee started as a handful of parents who joined with the performing arts teachers to determine specifically what was needed and how it could be accomplished. Founding members had expertise which would come in handy: Co-chairs David and Kathy Kahn are a professor of theatre and a marketing professiona1. Fundraising chair Chris Quan was knowledgeable about the inner workings of the school, and about funding sources. Bill Branagh is a contractor specializing in large facilities. A number of active PTSA parents got involved, each bringing his or her own areas of expertise, but all with a sense that something must be done about the sad state of the Skyline Theater.
The 1999-2000 school year was spent in creating a plan and a budget for the project. The funding process was also begun that spring with a request for a grant from Skyline’s most famous alumnus, Tom Hanks. Mr. Hanks, Class of 1974, remembers his days at Skyline fondly, particularly the many hours he spent in the theatre under the direction of then-Skyline drama teacher, Rawley T. Farnsworth. He was happy to contribute to the project, to join the committee as Honorary Chairperson, and generously agreed to lend his name to further fundraising efforts, to host the performance, and to do interviews about Skyline with local media. By the fall of 2000, the committee was able to announce his involvement, and to proceed with grant requests, further fund raising, and the renovation itself.
Meanwhile, in a stroke of lucky timing, Skyline High was beginning a campus-wide modernization and face-lift, courtesy of the voters of Oakland and two recent school bond mea sures. As the committee began work on the building, some of the most visible problems were already being fixed by the school district - restoring the 976 seats, replacing all the curtains, fixing safety and code problems. The building was painted, inside and out. Certain needed equipment was installed. The committee was thus able to coordinate its improvements with what the school was doing in a highly successful cooperative partnership. Much remained to be done. The lighting and sound systems, as well as the building's electrical circuitry and wiring,
were out of date and only partially functional, and had to be replaced. The rigging (the system of pipes and pulleys above the stage from which lighting, curtains, and set pieces are hung) was reaching the end of its life and needed to be replaced. The scene shop needed a complete renovation.
The dressing rooms needed remodeling. A lighted display case was needed out front. A number of miscellaneous improvements were needed all over the building. As the money came in, it went right back out and the renovation steadily progressed. Part of the money came in the form of grants from corporations and foundations including the Wayne & Gladys Valley Foundation, the J.M. Long Foundation, the Fleishhacker Foundation, the Wells Fargo Foundation, the Alba Witkin Foundation, the Alexander & Baldwin Foundation, and The Men's Warehouse. Far more came from individual contributions ranging from $100 to $5,000, from hundreds of alumni, dozens of current and former faculty and staff members, a number of elected officials, leaders of our local arts community, and other members of the Skyline community, past, present, and future.
For a donation of $100 or more, a contributor was able to "name" a seat -to have a name or other text engraved on a brass plaque and permanently affixed to the seat arm. Then the contributor was invited to occupy that seat for the June 1 Gala Dedication. By the week before the event, every seat was named, every arm had a brass plaque, and Skyline had pulled off its most successful fund raiser ever. The night arrived, and guests were greeted at the Skyline gate by a new electronic signboard and special event security coordinated by parent volunteers Cynthia and Dave Blumgart. The Skyline ROTC, under the supervision of Lt. Col. Madison, managed the parking of several hundred cars efficiently and hospitably. Guests moved from the parking lot to the reception on and around the senior lawn. The reception decorations by Judi Fabrizio were festive and colorful. The banners and ribbons flapped cheerfully in the wind, setting the scene for a party that was a little chilly but very high-spirited. Home Depot generously provided extensive potted flowering plant and shrub decor to complement tile garden, already looking beautiful due to the efforts of Skyline gardener Randy Bamham and a small crew of volunteers who had helped with weeding and sprucing up the previous weekend.
The reception itself, managed by parents Kathy Mayerhofer, aged by Robin Violet and Jane Ophelia Jayme, was spectacular. The food was diverse, plentiful, and delicious, with all refreshments donated by local businesses and restaurants. There were 18 reception hosts: businesses who had food and drink tables hosted by their own employees, or in some cases, owners. They were A.G. Ferrari, Bison Brewing, Cafe Venezia, Catered Productions, Compadres Bar & Grill, Crogan's Montclair, DonSueMor, Everett & Jones Barbeque, Just Desserts, Lyluck Restaurant, Mercedes Authentic Mexican Food, Noah's Bagels, Pagarung Thai Cuisine, Peel's Coffee & Tea, Rick & Ann's Pantry, Royal Ground Coffee, Spettro, and Whole Foods Market. There were also 28 more local businesses who donated decorations or food served from a table staffed by event volunteers. They were Acme Bread Company, Arizmendi Bakery, Beverages and More, Colonial Donuts, Crown liquors, Cybelle's Pizza, Fior D'Italia Restaurant, Giovanni Bar & Grill, Grace Baking, Hard Rock Cafe, Homemade Cafe, Horizon Beverage Company, Hunan Yuan Restaurant, II Porcellino, Katrina Rozelle, Kincaid's Bayhouse, Mama's Royal Cafe, Parkway Theater at Lake Merritt, See's Candies, Silver Palace, Smart and Final Stores, Starbucks Coffee, Szechuan Garden Restaurant, Toot Sweets Fine Desserts, Tropix Caribbean Restaurant, Vo's Restaurant, Yank Sing Restaurant, and Yumae Nursery. The Skyline Jazz Combo entertained the guests as they feasted on the lawn and in the breezeway. Volunteers managed by Robin Violet and Jane Goldstein did a brisk business in Skyline Then and Now" t-shirts commemorating the event. Meanwhile, inside the theater, Tom Hanks spent half an hour with the Skyline performers, talking about his life as a performer, and answering questions. Then the press got their turn, and local papers and television stations had a chance to ask Mr. Hanks and Rawley Farnsworth questions in a press conference expertly staged by Carolyn Kemp, who managed all publicity as well as the program for the event. When it was time for the guests to enter the theater, they did so by way of new murals by the entrances, painted in honor of the occasion by Mr. Eric Johnson's advanced art class. Flowers and potted shrubs framed a lobby that contained a fascinating and visually arresting display of photos and memorabilia spanning 40 years of performing arts at Skyline High. The display was created by parent and Skyline alumnus Sherry Kaetzel, who also did the research and collected the materials, along with another parent alumnus, Nancy Branagh. Around the lobby hung two dozen performance photos of current Skyline students, blown up to poster size courtesy of parent Lloyd Fogelhut and Hayashida Architects.
Supervised by former parent Peggy Lowndes, several dozen student ushers, representing groups all over campus, helped guests locate their seats. They were presented with glossy 20-page programs, with cover design donated by Skyline alumnus Mark Hurty, program design donated by Michael Carrillo, and printing donated by Apollo Printing Company.
The show began with the overture from South Pacific: Skyline's 2002 spring musical and Tom Hanks' last show at Skyline. As it ended, Tom Hanks stepped out onstage to thunderous applause. 8eaming, he looked around at the room full of fellow Skyline Titans, and said "Boy, am I glad I didn't go to Bishop O'Dowd!" The show featured Skyline's advanced performers, including highlights from "South Pacific" as well as Dance Production and Voices of the Sky. There were two videos, one produced by 1974 alumnus Trudi Melohn which focused on the contributions of teacher Rawley T. Farnsworth to the school and the lives of his students, and the other a humorous thank you to Tom Hanks produced by 2002 graduate Daniel Cotroneo and the Skyline Media Team. Performing Arts faculty Jan Hunter, Dawn James, Ted Allen, Everett Baines, and Gary Quinn, along with several Skyline drama students, narrated the show, described today's performing arts programs, and performed thank-you's. In a very special performance, Oakland East Bay Symphony conductor Michael Morgan took the stage to play Skyline's new grand piano in performance for the first time. With him were symphony musicians and Skyline alumni Deborah Spangler (class of 1971, violin) and Joseph Hebert (class of 1976, cello) and the three played a Beethoven trio which was one of the highlights of the evening. Finally, every person in the theater was given a souvenir kazoo, courtesy of A & G Music, and invited to take part in the rousing finale, "There's No Business Like Show Business."
The show ended, the house lights went up, but people lingered for a long time, chatting in groups, savoring the evening. A proud 40-year tradition of excellent performing arts education had been reaffirmed, and the theater rededicated. It was Skyline's night to shine.
Tom Hanks winning the Oscar® for Actor in a Leading role for his performance in "Philadelphia." - 66th Annual Academy Awards®. youtube
Uploaded on Apr 21, 2009Rawley Farnsworth, Tom Hanks' drama teacher at Skyline High School in Oakland, CA speaks at the AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute To Tom Hanks.