The Theater Experience

Sophomores Ellen Crock and Kaylynn Burgin run the light board for the show “Once on This Island” in September. Photo by Maddie Naeve.

Community Theater Provides Necessary Learning Opportunities for Students

Opinion by Kai Yamanishi

Many people know that the theater program at the high school is good, in fact, it is one of the best in the state. However, keeping up that level of quality is becoming increasingly difficult as key student members graduate, without passing on their knowledge. This is most evident in the technical side of theater, where all but one of the experienced students graduated last year.

There is also the additional challenge of the new theater, which will have equipment none of the students have used. Both of these issues are exacerbated by a lack of time to properly teach skills to new students, resulting in students being unable to properly express their artistic designs on the stage. Requiring students to have experience in theater prior to participating in the high school program could fix this.

A good example of a lack of knowledge hindering artistic aspirations is the sound department. It has long been the least popular of the various areas of focus in technical theatre, as it is both highly technical, and lacks easily visible results. This means that many never even consider it, and those who do are turned off by the complexity. Thus, no one ever settles into the role of sound designer, and no basis of knowledge is ever built up. This is why the sound design of most shows is relatively simple.

Contrast this to the lighting department. One student, Martin Benesh (`18), devoted a significant portion of his time to developing his knowledge of lighting, assisted by an Emmy Award winning lighting designer. He was able to pass on the fundamentals of lighting to the new students in his senior year, and because of that they will be able to grow further, and improve the program even more. This is also why lighting is one of the most independent departments from adult oversight.

But the school can’t rely on students like Benesh; instead, it should encourage them to get involved in theater early. It has started to do this to some extent, by allowing eighth graders to participate, but this isn’t enough. They still work for the first time on a high school show, with little time for learning. If students participated in community offerings, such as Odyssey Theatre, they would have a chance to learn in a more relaxed environment. The school should encourage them to participate in such programs, or even require it as a prerequisite for working on a high school show.

Something as simple as that would help immensely when shows start up in the fall, and would allow students to be more creative in their work, as they wouldn’t have to worry about getting something simple wrong, and having to start over. They could also be more efficient in their work, and thus the sets could become more complex and interesting.

The school needs to implement this before the new theater is built, because once it is completed everyone will be learning new skills, and there will be even less time to help those who come in during the school year. If everyone had to learn new skills during a show, the show would not be very good. Since the show in this scenario will be the community’s first impression of the theater they voted on, that is not a good thing.

Once students all have a solid foundation of skills and knowledge to draw from, they will be able to become artists, not just technicians. They will be able to devote more time to making a show beautiful, rather than worrying about just getting something onstage.