St. Ray's celebrates the opening of $1.3 million Coutu Theater

St. Ray's celebrates the opening of $1.3 million Coutu Theater

Ethan Mendes, a junior theater student from Pawtucket, dances an opening number for a gala performance at the new Coutu Theater at St. Raphael Academy on Sunday. In the background, from left, are senior Victoria Payne, of Pawtucket, senior Keyshawn Ramos, of Pawtucket, and senior Alyana Sabb, of Pawtucket. (Valley Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

PAWTUCKET - St. Raphael Academy finally has an auditorium befitting its award-winning theater program.

The local private Catholic school welcomed students, parents and alumni back for a grand opening gala last weekend, a series of performances celebrating the opening of a theater that cost $1.3 million to build.

The Joseph & Blanche Coutu Theater has been "many years in the making," said St. Raphael Principal Dan Richard, and its opening in the former legendary Dennis M. Lynch Jr. Memorial Gymnasium marked "a special day for the St. Ray's family."

The Coutu Theater and associated renovations include a 300-seat, state-of-the-art performance space, including an expanded stage, a 1,600-square-foot art gallery, a renovated ticket booth, and improved storage and set design space. This is one of the best theater spaces in Rhode Island, said Richard. All that's left to complete, according to leaders at the school, is a sound system.

Theater and music students at St. Ray's kicked off the new era for the old gym space with a 90-minute production, mixing song and dance numbers with slides depicting past generations at St. Ray's. The original production, directed by Terry Murray, celebrated the history of a building that once held everything from romantic Saturday night dances to wrestling matches and Spirit Week activities.

The Rev. Mark Sauriol, chaplain at St. Ray's, said many people had a hand in finally bringing about a theater space equal to the talent that goes on the stage each year. A number of local theater groups have already inquired about renting the space, he said, a potential revenue source for the school.

The Joseph & Blanche Coutu Theater is the latest addition to Saint Raphael Academy's seven-building campus. Thanks to architecture firm Vision 3 Architects and construction management company E. Turgeon Construction Corp., Saint Raphael Academy now has a performance space that maintains the "historical integrity" of the academy's Quality Hill campus while providing a state-of-the-art space for the fine arts, according to a news release.

The school's Drama Club, which is a 19-time State Drama Festival winner, "now has a space that is worthy of its success," say school leaders. The design boasts an intimate setting, stadium-style seating, and acoustical design "that will make each visit to the Coutu Theater memorable."

"I could not be happier with the Coutu Theater," said Murray, who was recently awarded lifetime membership to the New England Drama Council and has taught at St. Ray's for more than 30 years. "The performing arts at Saint Raphael Academy has done so much; now the students get the opportunity to perform in one of the finest spaces in the region."

"We already have one of the best, if the not the best, athletic spaces in Alumni Hall," said Richard in a statement. "Now our students have the very best performing arts space as well."

According to Richard, school leaders "brought all the best in the region to the table, from architects to designers, construction managers to supporters of Saint Ray's, "and we created a transformational performance space for many generations of Saints to come."

The $1.3 million project, which is fully funded and will not put the school in debt, was made possible through a gift from the Joseph C. and Blanche Coutu Foundation, and through the generosity of many other Saint Raphael Academy alumni and supporters who gave to the "Time Is Now" capital campaign.

Joseph C. and Blanche Coutu were lifelong Pawtucket residents and parishioners at St. Teresa of the Child Jesus Church. Coutu was a successful businessman, and after his death in 1987, his wife specified in her will that upon her death, her estate would establish a charitable foundation. The Coutus were devout Catholics, and they recognized the value of good education. According to staff, they loved to see young people perform and develop their performing skills.

Pre-construction and site-preparation work began last summer, as crews began readying the space and bringing the existing structure up to code. Heavy construction began shortly before the school year and continued into the Christmas season. Since the start of the New Year, crews have been working to make sure all the finishing touches were in place for the opening gala.

To help further invest in fine arts technology and instruction, Saint Raphael Academy is offering alumni, students, families, faculty, and friends the opportunity to "buy" a seat and add their name to this historic addition. A number of people have already bought a seat, according to staff, but there are plenty left.

As a way to continue to honor and remember Dennis M. Lynch Jr., the Saint Raphael Academy graduate and coach for whom the Lynch Gymnasium was named, the court at Alumni Hall was dedicated to his memory. An official dedication ceremony for "Dennis M. Lynch Jr. Memorial Court" was held on Dec. 27 of last year.

Catherine Gagnon, right, music teacher and music director for the Grand Opening Gala dramatic performance at St. Raphael Academy on Sunday, leads student musicians in performing "Hallelujah" for an audience at the new Coutu Theater.
Theater students at St. Raphael Academy on Sunday performed song and dance numbers to help open their new performance space, the Coutu Theater. Singing a song about the new theater are, from left, junior Jarrett Knox, of North Providence, senior Lauren Mercer, of Pawtucket, junior Mia Sarcione, of Cumberland, junior Ciarra Botelho, of Providence, freshman Jarell Gomes, of Central Falls, and senior Alyana Sabb, of Pawtucket.
Student performers at St. Raphael Academy pay tribute to the school with a series of song and dance numbers from decades past.
An audience gathers in the new state-of-the-art space at the Coutu Theater on Sunday.