Slice of Life

It takes a village to raise a high school musical to this level

ktanner@thetribunenews.comApril 18, 2013 

Richard Greek takes a wood-chopping contraption he made for ‘Beauty & The Beast’ for a test drive.

CAMBRIAN PHOTO BY KATHE TANNER

Coast Unified School District students have completed another springtime rite of passage, one that has consumed day after day and night after night of hard work for weeks. No, make that months, for students and a host of volunteers.

Conclusion: Cambria doesn’t have an annual high school musical. It has a community musical.

We celebrate the amazing performances and long, hard work of the multi-school cast and crew of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Applause!!

However, we also must honor the nearly 100 volunteers — parents, theatrical and musical folks, teachers and others, some with no tie to the school any more, other than their own desire to help.
School district Superintendent Chris Adams said it’s “an outstanding show,” and that at Coast, “drama’s huge … leadership is grown through having kids in situations where they stretch themselves, and our whole mission is creating leaders who will succeed later in life.” Performing teaches students “to speak in public, develop courage and resiliency, but in a safe environment.  … It’s so important that kids get out of their comfort zone and excel … not everybody’s going to play sports.”  

High school principal Wade Lawrence said in the play’s program he’s also grateful for the “enthusiastic community support,” that continues the school’s “longstanding tradition of bringing quality theater to the Central Coast.”

Well, we’d need bouquets the size of Chicago to properly thank play director Kirk Henning and daughter Sonya Henning, the 2005 CUHS grad and choreographer who guided the dance troupe, both for free.

In an email interview, the director listed some (but far from all) the people who do so much year after year to turn Coast’s students into stars.

For instance, master prop creator Richard Greek, who tinkered and drew, cut, hammered and assembled what Henning referred as an “amazing invention,” Marcelle’s deliberately cantankerous, Rube-Goldberg-esque wood-chopping machine.

Greek has “stepped up to the plate year after year,” Henning said, putting wings on the Bronco to create the S.S. Pegasus, crafting a knife-throwing board for “The Pajama Game” and making a moveable Toto.

Among Henning’s other volunteers, in alphabetical order, are:

Jannette Bernritter, makeup; Ken Butterfield, prop costumes (such as Chip’s tea cart and the amazing Oz); sound designer Syd Carr and sound engineer Steve Finch, who are also “patient, willing teachers to students who man the controls during the productions,” Henning said.
Ruth Fleming, voice instructor, donates many hours, including at “special sessions with many of our lead actors.”

Michelle Fowler, lighting, helped bring in a new lighting company after years of either donating or deeply discounting the use of professional equipment from a nationwide lighting company she then co-owned. Fowler also spent many hours on costumes for the cast (and wolves).

Kit Hansen was vocal instructor for the 10th time. She ensures “the students not only learn all the musical numbers, but sound good,” Henning said.

Naomi Hernandez, stage manager, and her technical crew.

Jeff Mar, pianist, not only played in the orchestras, but also “donated countless hours as a rehearsal pianist … essential because having a live orchestra can be tricky business,” Henning said.
Shirley Mar, dance instructor/artist, had special sessions with some students. She also paints a memento poster for each production.

Karen McManus is “the best at organizing our concessions, a key source of funds,” Henning noted.
Inspired set designer Tigg Morales creates the set concepts and then coordinates bringing those visions to life with help from dedicated painters and carpenters.

John Ruml designed the program.

Randy Schwalbe, orchestra leader and former band instructor, “has been an absolute blessing,” Henning said, with Schwalbe’s “degree in music and vast experience playing in and conducting pit orchestras” for L.A. theater groups. Henning also lauded the volunteer musicians and backup singers.

Other key contributions were made by lead carpenter Gregg Sesser and assistant Joe Sassaman; Butch and Brenda Steeb, decorators of the themed lobbies; prop master Todd Steeb, who also did video and theater prep; Lani Zaragoza, costume mistress/designer and coproducer; and Joe Zaragoza, lighting design/coordination and coproducer. 

“We are truly lucky to live in such an artistically thriving community that can provide us with this cornucopia of talent,” Henning said.

Let’s give standing ovations to all for their dedication in making the CUHS annual high school play a cherished community event. Thank you, everyone!

Kathe Tanner is a reporter for The Cambrian and The Tribune. Her "Slice of Life" column appears biweekly. Email her at ktanner@thetribunenews.com and follow her on Twitter @CambriaReporter.

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