The skills that students learn by participating in technical theatre are ones they will utilize for a lifetime, and the benefits of participating in theatre will continue to grow throughout their lives.
At Central High School, our most recent musical was The Wizard of Oz, for which we had an opportunity to secure flying specialist Flying by Foy to assist with the flying elements of the production. Senior theatre student Levi Nelson said, “Working with my fellow technicians to fly the actors in the Wizard of Oz was one of the most stressful moments of my theatre career, but I knew that if I could do that, I could do anything.”
To create a greater understanding of the level at which these phenomenal theatre students produce great art, a brief history lesson is in order. During the past 15 years, the culture of our school has changed, and the performing arts are leading the charge. It has evolved, in part, due to the enormous popularity of the theatre department with more than 3,500 students involved in 40-plus productions, more than 200 drama club members each year, and with an expanded theatre curriculum including Drama I, II, III IV, Stagecraft and Advanced Stagecraft.
Additionally, original One-Act Plays have received superior show awards at the State One-Act Play Festival for 14 straight years. The support from our administration and theatre community is astounding. That’s merely scratching the surface.
The foundation on which these students’ success stands is miles deep and rock-solid, with successful alumni currently working in the industry in Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, London and Tokyo. Some past fan favorites include Les Misérables, Of Mice & Men, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Miss Saigon, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Wizard of Oz, Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story.
There’s no secret as to why the students of Rapid City Central High Theatre are known as the hardest-working kids in show business.
So, what does this mean for the technical aspect of the department? First, expectations are set higher than the students have ever dreamed. At first, they think it’s impossible and are a bit skeptical, but they instantly rise to the occasion. Students challenge one another to create at an enormously high level, and expectations continue to be surpassed theatre season after theatre season.
The students perform in a 700-seat proscenium theater with a full fly system. The department has access to a 2,000-square-foot scene shop, costume shop and properties shop. The technicians work simultaneously while the cast rehearses. We meet as a full company prior to beginning rehearsal and crew work time. Each meeting concludes with the students cheering, “ONE, TWO, THREE – Let’s Make Magic” and thunderous applause leads us into the afternoon.
Prior to beginning each production, technicians must apply for a position. There are more than 100 applications submitted for approximately 40-45 technical positions, with upperclassman vying for crew head positions, for which they must interview. Once production begins, there is a structure of hard deadlines that are crucial for a successful production schedule, which usually runs eight weeks for straight plays and 12 weeks for musicals.
Communicating to the students and parents the level of commitment is essential – including Crew Saturdays. The technicians contribute on Saturdays, usually from noon to 6 p.m., and they live for it. Much work is accomplished during this time and the cast is constantly amazed as to how much progress is made. Additionally, assigning students to a particular project creates ownership for each set piece, costume, prop and lighting cue.
“After being involved in the artform for over 40 years, it is clear to me who the real theatre heroes are,” said Justin Speck, artistic director for the school’s theatre department. “They have no desire to be in the limelight, and acting isn’t their vibe; but, their love for the craft runs every bit as deep, and what they do is every bit as important as those that take the bow. There is no doubt that technical theatre is every bit as rewarding and honorable as acting. Their art is important, and we love them for it.”
These students work tirelessly to bring each production to life, but the benefits to serving on a technical crew reach far beyond the stage. Our 2018-19 theatre season includes The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the student directed One-Act Play After Hours, our next original One-Act Play Atlantis: The Ancient Dialogues of Plato, and this spring will bring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Senior [theatre technician and recently elected] Drama Club President Caden Lefler said, “In my past four years of working in technical theatre, I have learned many skills and life lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Theatre has shaped me into a more disciplined, creative and expressive version of myself that no other after-school activity could do. Technical theatre has taught me hard life lessons in problem-solving, creative thinking, logistics and much, much more. I firmly believe I am a better human today because of my past theatrical experiences. Theatre changes lives for the better.”
The schedule can be grueling at times but knowing how these opportunities benefit young people keeps all of us coming back year after year. Many of these students will not pursue technical theatre at the collegiate level but will graduate high school a more well-rounded person with an enormous amount of self-awareness.
Theatre Alum Alivia Olson (2017), currently a sophomore at the University of South Dakota majoring in technical theatre, said, “Being involved in technical theatre has helped me develop problem- solving skills and overcome fears, and has expanded my imagination and creativity. Being involved in the theatre community as a whole has taught me to be unapologetically myself and has greatly expanded my comfort zone.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. ONE TWO THREE – LET’S MAKE MAGIC!
Joey Lore is technical director of theatre and co-chair of the English Language Arts Department at Central High School in Rapid City, South Dakota.