It’s Not High School Theater; It’s Theater with High School Students By James Bohanek, Theater, Upper School
his past February, sold-out audiences were astounded by the caliber of the production of Guys and Dolls staged in Kenan Auditorium. Many people told me that they could not believe how professional the production was, from the performances of the cast and the work of the student crew to the design and execution of the sets, lights and costumes. Audience members asked again and again, “How do you do it?” An easy answer, of course, would be “a lot of hard work.” But I believe that the key to the success of the theater program at the Upper School stems from a philosophy I have emphasized since I began directing. We don’t do high school theater; we do theater with high school students. The distinction here is not one of semantics but of philosophy. I refuse to accept the idea that we need to reduce our expectations simply because the cast and crew are high school students. I draw upon years of experience as an actor and director and work alongside a talented team of teachers and designers who also have years of professional experience in their areas of expertise. The students may lack our experience, but they 12
Durham Academy Record | Summer 2011 | www.da.org
Photos by Bobbie Ha rdaker
make up for this deficit with passion, energy and, most importantly, a willingness to learn and stretch themselves. Are there limitations to what we do? Certainly. We have neither the time nor the financial resources to do whatever we want on stage. My goal with each production, however, is to make sure we make the most out of the time and money we have. Whatever limitations we face can be overcome with the collective imagination, creativity and commitment of the directors, designers, cast and crew. We work together to bring to life great stories that move audiences intellectually and emotionally. Why shouldn’t we pursue this goal just as seriously and passionately as professionals? With this in mind, there are a few fundamental tenets that encourage professionalism and make the theater program at the Upper School both inviting and rewarding to newcomers and veterans alike. • Set the bar high.
Everyone involved in the productions works hard and commits a large number of hours to the process. Shouldn’t we spend that time working on plays and musicals that challenge us, that elevate us, that demand we invest ourselves fully in the process and that leave us better for having worked on these shows? Several years ago, when I chose