Ballerini’s gift brings pro lights, sound to musical

Shannon CareyFountain City

Central High School’s musicals always shine, but this spring they’ll glow a bit brighter thanks to a $20,000 gift from country music phenom Kelsea Ballerini.


Last October, Ballerini made the gift with the only caveat that it would be used for the choral music program. Music director Matt Parks used the funds to purchase new sound and lighting equipment for the Central High School auditorium, replacing aging equipment and enabling professional effects onstage for theatre productions and concerts.

Choral music director Matt Parks uses the school’s new Hog 3 lighting board.

And if you want a showcase of what the new equipment can do, be sure to check out the upcoming production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” co-directed by Parks and Erin Housam, set for April 19-21. Parks said the technical side of the production would not have been possible without the new equipment.

“The lights and sound make a huge difference,” he said. “It opens up some really cool effects for the creepy moments. The kids will have monitors on stage so they can hear themselves, and everything will sound so much better.”

What’s more is that the new lighting board, a Hog 3, is widely used by professional lighting companies, giving students real-world, marketable skills.

“The strength of that is training because in technical jobs like concerts, festivals, light rigging, it’s actually a marketable skill,” said Housam. “We have one student who is already working in the field locally. We are blessed with this gift.”

Audrey II, piloted by Shane Bennett and Michael Boyd, eats Katie Thorpe in rehearsals for “Little Shop of Horrors.”

The Central High alumni family has come together to make the most of Ballerini’s gift. Alum Colton Newgent, a professional light and sound designer, helped Parks select the new equipment and continues to put in volunteer hours to install it and train students on its use.

“He’s just a saint in Fountain City,” said Parks.

Parks said he and Housam chose “Little Shop” because it’s a good fit for the students they have this year. The production is in rehearsal in the new-this-year musical theatre class at Central, offering stage performing and career theatre tech experience for students.

The musical’s infamous plant, Audrey II, is on loan from Gibbs High School from a previous production of “Little Shop.” There are four “Audreys,” two hand puppets, one whole-body puppet, and Audrey II’s final form, requiring two people to manipulate.

Hunter Webb-Key as Seymour and Keegan Lyle as Audrey rehearse the song “Suddenly Seymour.”

Elizabeth Mitchell voices Audrey II, while Hunter Webb-Key plays Seymour, and Keegan Lyle plays Audrey.

“This venue is student-run, and it gives them amazing skills,” said Housam. “We’re just trying to make sure that Central High School is well represented and that we’re turning out quality productions.”

Tickets for “Little Shop of Horrors” are $10 for adults, $7 for students and can be purchased by calling the school office at 865-689-1400. Shows are 7 p.m. April 19-21.

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