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From Gymnasium to Cutting-Edge Theater

AISD and The Square Group partner to create the premier theater in Bangladesh
By Jennifer Passey
From Gymnasium to Cutting-Edge Theater

In December 2012, the American International School in Dhaka (AISD) invited internationally renowned architects Perkins Eastman to create an auditorium space that would best meet the needs of AISD. Detailed meetings ensued with the architects, School Board, management, and faculty to create a theater that would harness the needs of budding performers, directors, and backstage hands. The architects were tasked to design a space that would incorporate these diverse purposes without calling for a brand new building.
AISD is fortunate to have members of the local and international community ready to support the strategic vision of the school. Mr. Anjan Chowdhury, Managing Director of The Square Group, stepped forward as AISD began to create the plans for a new auditorium.
“The Square Group has a long culture of supporting the arts in Bangladesh. We have built theaters and funded arts programs in the past, in particular in my hometown. When my father, who enjoyed the arts, passed away, we set up a foundation that would further support the arts, sports, and education. So, helping AISD build a theater of its own is an extension of what we have been doing and naming this theater after my parents is a fitting tribute to the contribution my parents have made to the arts in Bangladesh.
The collaboration between Square and AISD was about being in the right place at the right time. My eldest daughter attended AISD and I have two children in the school now. I have a long relationship with the school and as a parent I have enjoyed many school performances. AISD is a well-managed school, and so when I learned they were constructing a new theater, we wanted to be a part of it,” said Mr. Anjan Chowdhury.
Once the blueprints were produced and approved, work commenced to transform what was once the school’s third gymnasium into a cutting-edge theater.
“It was a challenge from time to time,” confessed Mr. Casey Wick, the school’s director of facilities and operations. “This theater has been the result of an international collaboration between our New York-based architects, Perkins Eastman, bridged with local talent in the building sector and independent contractors. We were determined to construct a state-of the-art theater that was of an international standard. In undertaking this project we have broken the mold and proven that much is possible in Dhaka.” All the materials used to construct the theater were internationally sourced, from the lighting and sound equipment to the seating and carpets.
The auditorium was designed first and foremost to meet the needs of all AISD students. It is fully equipped with the latest acoustical and LED lighting systems, a modern sound booth, and a spacious props and dressing area. The auditorium can seat as many as 400 audience members across two floors. The skillfully planned layout enables students and teachers to stage anything from small skits to major productions with space for an orchestra too!
AISD’s superintendent during this time, Mr. Richard Boerner, spearheaded the project and was delighted with the outcome. “The construction of this theater was central to the school’s renovation and modernization efforts,” he said. The previous theater was underutilized because it lacked acoustic properties, visible sight lines, and decent seating capacity. It just did not allow students to perform in the arts in a way that met their 21st-century needs.”
The theater’s design is incredibly intimate and designed with the audience member in mind. There is not a bad seat in the house, so all people can feel a part of the experience. The stage itself is about 50 percent larger than AISD’s previous stage and there is a lot of flexibility, allowing it to be larger or smaller depending on the performance.
The million-dollar donation made by Mr. Anjan Chowdhury and his company, The Square Group, enhanced the original plans for a new AISD theater to what now provides students and faculty with access to cutting-edge technology in the world of theater performances.
The Anita and Samson H. Chowdhury Performing Arts Center is not just built for the spotlight-searching student in mind, but also for those with aspirations to work behind the scenes. Mr. Chowdhury’s support was transformational and, together with AISD leaders and a range of companies and contractors, created a center that truly is the premier theater in Bangladesh. l

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