Gravely Hall has been a community staple for more than 50 years
Published 1:24 pm Thursday, May 4, 2023
BY LANCE GAITHER
With the school year coming to an end, Danville High School’s Gravely Hall is decorated in the style of a Greek town in anticipation for the upcoming spring musical “Mamma Mia!” Since it was first built in 1964, Gravely Hall has hosted numerous shows and became a cherished place for many former students of Danville High School.
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“I can’t tell you the number of alum that come through the door and remember being on that stage,” said Director of Arts Education Jane Dewey. “They talk about their favorite teacher and their time on stage.”
In the year 2000, an extensive renovation of Gravely Hall was completed.
“The board members had amazing vision when they decided to turn the place into a real theater that students and the community could use,” Dewey said. “It is a funny story, after the renovation they had a huge grand opening headlined by the famous gospel singer and alum Larnelle Harris. After they realized they needed someone to run the theater. I was teaching at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Fayette County and was running an Arts Education Network from the Richmond Area Arts Council but I lived in Danville so they asked me to be a consultant. They ended up making a position and I applied. I ended up coming here full time. The legacy of arts in Danville schools didn’t begin when this theater reopened it began long before. This theater has just bee n a catalyst to bring it forward.”
Marvin Sawnn was the chair of the school board that approved the renovation, although he has retired from the board, he still serves as a substitute teacher for Danville Schools.
“At the time we had one of the most prestigious auditoriums for a high school and we wanted to make sure that stayed the same,” Swann said. “We wanted every child to perform at least one time before they graduated. We wanted the stage to be in tip top shape. The community just jumped in, the cost was up there, but they were very supportive. Everybody around us wished they had our auditorium.”
When the theater was first reopened in 2000, it was just known as the Danville High School Auditorium, shortly after school alum wanted to honor Bill Gravely, the school’s band director during the 1960’s who made many contributions to the arts with the school.
The theater will have it’s lighting modernized this summer by replacing the current lights with LEDs. Technical Director Malcom Springs explained that the new lighting will use only 16 percent of the energy that the current lights do.
Gravely Hall continues to enrich students at Danville High School.
“I love Gravely Hall, it has kept me on my toes,” said student Isabelle Kernen. “It has helped my teamwork and communication skills a lot. It is a lot of fun. I love all the people and the cast. We all play off of each others energy.”
The theater helps students learn about on stage and behind the scenes aspects of putting on a performance.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here,” said student Hayden Maples “It has helped me be more social with people. It helped me breach out instead of being self contained and come out of my shell.”
The set for the upcoming “Mamma Mia!” was designed by student Oliver Levi.
“The theater has taught me so many physical skills, we have built this set all by hand,” Levi said. “Learning all this stuff is useful both in the theater sense and the practical sense. It is a great way to meet people and befriend people.”