Do the students at the different local high schools get out to see each others’ productions?
“The first high school theater production that I went to was the night before the opening night of my first play,” says Theo Meek, a junior at Wooster High School. “I was so nervous about the opening of my play, and I thought it might help to see some theater. And I happened to know the lead in the other school’s play. … It helped a lot. I was a lot less nervous afterward.”
High schools tend to be insular worlds, miniscule scholastic fiefdoms with only a cursory relationship to the outside world. Student athletes are at least granted the freedom to visit other schools, even if these experiences are largely based in competition. But the sensitive, creative types need some interaction with the larger community, as well. And perhaps that interaction, with a possible hint of competition, will help the students to grow and develop.
The Scholastic Art Awards, an annual national competition in which Washoe County students participate, has helped give visual arts students a competitive extramural forum. But what about aspiring performing artists?
Many of the local high schools put on at least a couple of public theatrical productions each school year. This seems like a natural place for students—particularly those who aren’t much interested in sports—to get to know their cross-town peers.
Though the school district hasn’t provided the students with many formal opportunities to attend plays at other schools, many students take it upon themselves to visit other productions.
“Well, a group of us theater nerds will sometimes get together and go see another school’s play,” says Meek. This is something the students do of their own free will. “We’ll sometimes invite [Wooster drama teacher Kimberly Gibbons], but she can’t always come. She has kids and stuff.”
But an increase in interaction and dialogue among the local high school drama teachers may be on the horizon. This year, the Washoe County School District has begun sponsoring professional conference days where the high school drama teachers from different schools can meet and exchange ideas.
“It’s really easy for drama teachers to feel isolated,” says Damonte Ranch High School theater teacher Rod Hearn. “It’s great for us all to get together and talk about things that some of the teachers might not even be aware of.”
The Theater International Baccalaureate, a program that offers students an opportunity to earn college credits, is one example, mentioned by Gibbons, of an advantageous program that all of the local drama teachers might not even be aware of.
Unlike, say, an English or a math department where there is a larger faculty, most high school theater departments are lucky if they have one teacher.
“We’re really lucky to have a full-time program,” says Gibbons. Many local schools only have one part-time drama teacher—often a moonlighting English teacher. And some local schools, like Sparks High School, are currently without a drama program.
In order to generate a fuller sense of a theater community there have been, in the past, direct gatherings among the local high school theater programs. The Northern Nevada Theater Festival is a gathering of actors from the local high school troupes. It provides students with an opportunity to share a stage with—and show off for—their peers from around the region. The festival includes a section of performers from each school presenting short plays and receiving evaluation from a panel of judges that includes local theater professionals from the University of Nevada, Reno, Truckee Meadows Community College or local companies like Reno Little Theater.
The festival didn’t happen last year, but many of the local drama teachers, Hearn and Gibbons among them, are excited to revive it.
“It’s something we’re definitely going to be talking about when we all get together,” says Hearn. “I’d be happy to host it at Damonte again.”
But even without a formal gathering of the drama departments from different schools, the students themselves are still curious to check out what theirs peers are up to. Most of the local plays are open to the public, so the students from other schools could just slip in and sit in the back, but they usually like to make their presence known—so the students at the home school know that they’d better pull out all the stops.
“If we’re doing a comedy,” says Meek, “and there’s people from another school there—particularly if the school’s known for doing good comedies—we’ll try even harder to make it as funny as possible.”