Lynn Sperry didn’t see it coming.
Members of the MISD Board of Trustees, Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel, McKinney Mayor George Fuller and City Manager Paul Grimes gathered on Thursday, Jan. 31 in the foyer of McKinney ISD’s beautiful, new McKinney High School Performing Arts Center for the ceremonial ribbon cutting that would officially open the doors to the pristine 1,000 seat fine arts facility.
As the two halves of the blue ribbon drifted to the floor and applause rose from the crowd of friends, family and staff that had gathered for the occasion, McDaniel stepped forward and called for everyone’s attention once again.
“But, wait there’s more,” he said with a smile.
The crowd quieted, and McDaniel began by thanking the Board of Trustees for their ongoing support of the district’s fine arts programs. Then, he singled out Sperry in particular, as well as her husband Neil.
McDaniel spoke of Lynn Sperry’s 35 years of service on the board and the impact that both she and Neil Sperry have had on the district and the broader community.
He pointed out that, during her nearly four decades on the Board, Lynn Sperry has served as Board secretary, vice-president and president and that she was a founding member of the McKinney Education Foundation. Together, the Sperrys founded Serenity High, the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney and have earned Volunteer of the Year and Citizen of the Year recognition as well as the title of Collin County Living Legends.
“The Sperrys have been staunch supporters for preserving strong fine arts in public education, which has included support for fine arts capital improvements in past bond programs,” McDaniel went on.
“The McKinney High School Performing Arts Center is a shining example of this commitment to the arts. Lynn was a key supporter for the creation of the McKinney ISD Orchestra Program. And, Neil and Lynn have attended countless MISD theatre, band, choir, orchestra and other fine arts performances,” McDaniel said.
And, then he drove home the point of it all, “We want to take this opportunity to honor Lynn and Neil Sperry for your undying support and dedication to the students of McKinney ISD, McKinney ISD Fine Arts and the City of McKinney by introducing to this entire community the Sperry Performance Hall.”
With that, a long banner was whisked away to reveal the Sperry Performance Hall name emblazoned in burnished letters above the entrance to the new auditorium. Sperry’s hands flew to her mouth in surprise as she turned to take in the sight, and the crowd burst into long, loud applause.
Overwhelmed by the gesture and with tears in her eyes, Sperry hugged her husband, and after taking a moment to gather her thoughts, turned to address the crowd.
“Thank you is all I can say. Thank you. I have said many times that I never thought I would live long enough to see the arts program the way it is, and I am so proud and so happy about the way it has grown. All I can say is thank you.”
Less than an hour later, the doors to that auditorium opened on a new era in MHS Fine Arts as the combined talents of the school’s choir, theatre, orchestra and band students filled the newly-named Sperry Performance Hall with the song and spectacle of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The audience was near capacity, and the following two nights of the three-show run would be completely sold out affairs, with attendees arriving more than an hour before the show to get in.
For the student performers and staff from MHS, the turnout and the hall itself were beyond anything they had envisioned.
“It was just bigger and nicer and crazier than I think we could have all expected,” said MHS junior Maggie McGowen, who played the lead role of Christine.
Playing opposite McGowen in the title role of the Phantom was MHS senior Matthew Dexter. “When I came in, the curtain was already up. We could see the whole house, and I was like…‘This is really happening.’”
McGowen and Dexter said that they had expected that around 400 would probably show up on that opening night. But, when McGowen walked onstage for the first time, she was confronted with a nearly full house.
On the second night, the response of the sold out crowd was overwhelming. “There’s a huge, quick change between the time I sing ‘Think of Me,’ and then they put me in the giant ball gown,” McGowen said. “The second night I turned around and the crowd just went crazy, and I was just like, ‘Whoa…’ I mean every night the audience was so amazing…It was unbelievable.”
The stellar new venue was funded by a portion of the 2016 School Bond package, and the design was driven largely by the acoustics consulting firm BAI and Stages theatre consultants as they collaborated with Stantec to provide a world class acoustic and stage experience for the district.
Cadence McShane began construction in 2017 on the 61,000 square foot facility that brings the seating capacity from the 400 of their former auditorium to 1,000 in the new one. The Performing Arts Center also includes a black box theatre, 10 additional rehearsal spaces and a loading dock. The new theatre features a balcony and four box seats, all of which were included to bring the audience closer to the stage.
MISD Director of Fine Arts Dan White lauded the leadership of MISD Facilities Director Greg Suttle, who had previously overseen construction of the Allen ISD Performing Arts Center.
“Greg knew that, if we want a great hall, here’s how we start—we start with the acoustician; we start with the design,” said White.
And “the design” included evaluating every detail to create a top-notch viewing and listening experience, from sight lines and the size of the room to items that the average person might not consider.
“All the way down to the seats we need to use, the flooring, the fabrics, the curtains. Everything is involved in acoustics. Everything makes a difference,” explained White.
The MHS Performing Arts Center and Sperry Performance Hall will be used by all of MHS’s performing arts programs at various times throughout the school year.
And, the significance of the district’s investment in the facility and, ultimately, the fine arts program at MHS, was not lost on Principal Alan Arbabi or his students.
“Our students and staff were in complete awe of the beautiful Performing Arts Center our McKinney community provided MHS,” said Arbabi. “MHS now has a world class facility to call home. I truly believe that our new space contributed to the overall success of ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ All future performances will also be enhanced simply because of our incredible venue. I offer a huge thank you to the community of McKinney for their investment in our students!”
Dexter offered a student’s perspective. “I think it means…we’re not an afterthought, and I think that’s really important that we get a chance to show our talents and get the community involved as well. I think that was part of why the show sold out as well…So, I think it’s pretty important that this happened.”
“It was definitely just a huge honor to see the community come together over something that makes so many of us happy and fulfills so many of us daily,” added McGowen. “Seeing so many different members of the community and the school district really come together and really work with us and work for us to make this happen was a huge honor because not every school district gets amazing facilities like we have…and for fine arts to be lucky enough to have one is a huge deal.”
For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.