This article has been included as there are so many teachers in amateur theatre and although it is American in origin it shows what is happening in the contemporary USA school scene. RS
The theme for high school theater productions this spring appears to
be “reprise.” According to Dramatics, an educational theater magazine,
millennial teachers are staging many of the same plays that were popular in the
middle of the last century. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the
play-that-won’t-go-away, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, are among the most
produced plays in high schools lately. Even many of the newer musicals
currently in heavy rotation—Godspell, Grease, and Little Shop of
Editor Donald Corathers explains, “It used to be that community theater was a
great source of dramatic literature for educational theater.” But during the
late 1960s and the ’70s, some options were eliminated as even Broadway shows
began to offer more mature subject matter and off-color language. “Which is not
to say high school students can’t handle the material,” Corathers says. “It’s
just not politically possible for theater teachers to get away with producing
an Angels in America,” the 1990 play about AIDS. There is a positive
this trend, though: Shakespeare is getting his due, topping the high school
charts for the past three years. And while Corathers would like to see some
more adventurous choices, he notes, “The reason the same plays get done over
and over is that they’re pretty darn good plays.”
We asked high school theater teachers across the country to explain their
motivations for choosing their spring productions.
BRANSON HIGH SCHOOL
Community: This resort town boasts 38 theaters (including venues in
Williams and the Osmonds perform regularly) and more seats than Broadway.
Popularity of Theater: About 100 of the school’s 850 students
drama activities. Theater teacher Debbie Corbin’s problem: “There’s a lot of
employment in this town vying for the same students I’m vying for.” She tries
to stage ensemble pieces so inexperienced actors can get on stage right away.
For example, in a fall production, Corbin added 20 students as extras.
Spring Productions: Harvey, a 1950 farce about a man’s
relationship with an
imaginary rabbit. Written by Mary Chase, it was later made into a movie
starring Jimmy Stewart.
Chosen Because: “It’s a classic,” and it differs from previous choices.
Last Time School Did Our Town: 1996. “I love that play!” Corbin
the apple pie of theater. Everyone can find someone to relate to in the play.”
LAGUARDIA HIGH SCHOOL FOR MUSIC &
ART AND PERFORMING ARTS
New York, New York
Community: Located near New York’s Lincoln Center, LaGuardia is the
school that inspired the 1980 film Fame.
Popularity of Theater: About 300 students study in the school’s
drama program. Only seniors participate in the Spring Drama Festival, which
draws agents and casting directors; lower-level drama students appear in
workshop productions all year. The school also stages a musical each fall
featuring kids from all of LaGuardia’s programs.
Spring Productions: This year’s festival features The Rimers of Eldritch
1965 mystery by Lanford Wilson), As You Like It (transported to the
1960s), and the comedy You Can’t Take It With You.
Chosen Because: “We run the department like a professional repertory
company,” says drama chair Linda Masson-Kingsley. “I tend to choose pieces we
haven’t done before or at least make the lineup varied.” She also looks for
Last Time School Did Our Town: “We’ve never done Our Town. I don’t see
it as a high school play,” Masson-Kingsley says. The piece deals with mature
themes, but high schools often play up the laughs or push for applause-
generating melodrama, she explains. “That’s not what we’re about at all. We’re
about creating truth on stage.”
FLOYD CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
Floyds Knobs, Indiana
Community: A small town across the river from Louisville, Kentucky.
Popularity of Theater: The school of 2,200 has one of the most active
performing arts programs in Indiana; 250 to 400 students participate in classes
Spring Productions: Once on This Island, a 1990 musical; The
Manhattan Radio Hour, a radio show; and Fools, a Neil Simon comedy.
Chosen Because: “Every year, I try to select a theme,” says Chris Bundy,
director of theater arts. “Next year will be the year of the unusual”—inspired
by such shows as Stomp. “This year’s theme is touring shows.” The
school is taking Once on This Island to small towns and theater
far apart as Lincoln, Nebraska, and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Last Time School Did Our Town: “Ages and ages ago,” according to
it was the play that kicked off the teacher’s own high school drama career, he
sees it more as a training piece than a production number. “It’s the thing you
use bits and pieces of in class,” he says.
THE WOODLANDS HIGH SCHOOL
The Woodlands, Texas
Community: A planned community of 50,000 in a suburb of Houston.
Popularity of Theater: Of the school’s 5,000 students, 1,000 take
department classes; about 80 students are “actively involved,” according to
theater teacher Sandra Erlandson.
Spring Productions: Dearly Departed, a 1992 comedy set in the
Bible Belt, and
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Chosen Because: Within a four-year period, the school tries to expose
to a variety of theater styles, including, according to Erlandson, “at least
one Shakespeare, a Greek play, maybe, and something by a really contemporary
American writer”—and it’s the last genre’s turn. Miller’s play was chosen as
the school’s submission in a major theater contest. And, Erlandson
says, “[it’s] one of the best American plays ever written.”
Last Time School Did Our Town: 1993. “I love the philosophy in
it. It’s really
hard to do because it can be so boring.”