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story.lead_photo.caption Jeremy Clay, left, and Bob Padgett reflect on the history of Love Auditorium at Bryant High School. Clay, the school’s drama teacher, will direct the last performance in the auditorium before it is torn down to make room for a new fine arts center and other buildings. Padgett was a member of the Bryant School District when the auditorium was built in 1984. - Photo by William Harvey

When Love Auditorium opened on the Bryant High School campus in 1984, it was a state-of-the-art facility. It was air-conditioned, had modern sound and lighting systems, and seated approximately 1,200 people.

Love Auditorium is scheduled for demolition later this spring to make room for three new buildings — a fine-arts center, a physical-education facility and a cafeteria. The construction project was made possible by a millage increase that was approved in March 2017.

“Love Auditorium was a plus for the school and for the community,” said Bob Padgett, director of maintenance for the Bryant School District who was a member of the school board in 1984. “It soon became the center point of the community. Many public events were hosted at the venue, from musical groups to anniversary celebrations. It was the pride of Benton.

“Up until that time, we performed plays and held other events in the cafeteria,” he said. “Graduation was held on the football field or inside the gymnasium.

“When this auditorium was built, it was a big thing,” said Padgett, who graduated from Bryant High School in 1958. His wife, three daughters and six grandsons also graduated from the high school. Padgett said he served on the school board for approximately 15 years and has been employed by the school district for 31 years.

“It’s bittersweet,” Padgett said of the impending demolition of Love Auditorium, which was named in honor of Ed Love, Bryant School District superintendent from 1969 to 1990. “I’ve had people ask me if they could buy a seat or buy a brick. I tell them, ‘yes.’ We are going to auction off a lot of things.”

A new roof, curtain and stage lighting were some of the minor improvements to the building over the years. The stage, constructed of pine, is original, as are the stadium chairs. The box office remains unchanged.

The final production in Love Auditorium will be Footloose, the 1998 Broadway musical based on the 1984 movie by the same name starring Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest and John Lithgow. Curtain time will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a special matinee at 2 p.m. Feb. 11. Tickets for all performances are $5 for students and $10 for adults and can be purchased at the door.

Jeremy Clay, who teaches drama, stagecraft, theater dance and stage management at Bryant High School, will direct the local production. He said he agrees that the demolition of the auditorium is bittersweet, “but it is time.”

“We will be without an auditorium for a year,” Clay said. “We are hoping the new facility will be ready for the 2019-2020 school year. We will continue to produce plays and present them in the Bryant Middle School Gymnasium. When we get to the end of the construction and have the new fine-arts center, it will definitely be worth it.”

Footloose tells the story of Ren McCormack, who moves to a small Midwestern town from Chicago. He is in shock when he learns the town has made dancing and rock music illegal. He faces an uphill battle to change things.

“This musical is a lot of fun,” Clay said. “It’s so full of energy, but it deals with some serious issues — censorship, rebellious teenagers, moral questions, people who stand up for themselves and what they believe in. It’s like a small protest show.”

Portraying lead characters are Brennon Humphry as Ren McCormack, Meredith Medford as Ariel Moore and Michael Fuhrman as the Rev. Shaw Moore.

Others in the cast include Carlee Hutchens as Ethel McCormack, Mallory Sullivan as Vi Moore, Jewell E. Regan as Lulu Warnicker, Stanley Robinson as Wes Warnicker, Austin Trimble as coach Roger Dunbar, Rachel Harmon as Eleanor Dunbar, Makayla Shipe as Rusty, Anaya Peterson as Urleen, and Kaitlyn Savage as Wendy Jo.

Also in the show are Jordan Loomis as Chuck Cranston, Eric Helms as Lyle, Tyler Graves as Travis, Jimmy Cerutti as a police officer, Paige Fuhrman as Betty Blast, William Alverio as Willard Hewitt, Zoie Glass as Principal Henrietta Clark, Maxton Preuninger as Jeter, Jack Clay as Bickle, Jaelun Thomas as Garvin, Blake Smith as Cowboy Bob, and Emily Culbreth and Faith Evans as dance captains.

Ryan McKenzie serves as assistant director. Other members of the crew include Madison Green, stage manager; Adri Schultz and Ashley Cushing, costumes; Madison Treat, props; Gabby Stewart, publicity; Caroline Chumley and Cobee Garner, sound; and Deandria Weaver, light board operator.

The music director is Daphne Shoppach, and the choreographer is Moriah Patterson.

Joshua Gardner, assistant director of bands, will lead the music ensemble. Musicians include Tabitha Waite, flute; Harris Hogue, clarinet; Cameron Engstrom, tenor saxophone; Sydney Calvert, baritone saxophone; Madison Betz, piano; Emily Clark, acoustic/electric guitar; Seth Treadway, bass guitar; Nick Kendrick, drums; and Andrea Thomas, percussion.

Clay said that among the better-known songs of the musical are “Footloose,” “Almost Paradise” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.”

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