Seventh period Theatre Production cut because of low enrollment

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Accolade Image File

Seventh period theater tech students put together stage sets like this one from the 2019 spring play, “Miracle Worker,” based on the life of Helen Keller. Less than a month into the 2020-2021 school year, administrators axed the class. Any of the 18 students there who were willing to and had the schedule flexibility were transferred to theater teacher Amanda Gieser’s third period combination class of theater 1 and 2 students. The coronavirus pandemic has also led to Gieser’s decision to cancel the fall musical, “Newsies.”

Yeihn Lee

Seventh period Technical Theater and Theater Production have been like a second home for senior Rebecca Back.

As a tech lead since the beginning of junior year, Back has supervised the behind-the-scenes stage production work with about 10 of her peers.

The water fountain that actually released water for the “Helen Keller” play last year in February? Back built it with help from her theater teacher.

Those large blocks representing the number “five” used in “1984” two years ago?  Back erected them, too.

“Theater was the only class where I got to talk and joke around with friends, so it was pretty sad to see them all go,” said Back, who is leaning toward minoring in theater production when she starts college.

The senior is among eight students who no longer can take that seventh period class and instead, the course has been merged with theater teacher Amanda Gieser’s third period, which combines Theater 1 with 2. Of the 18 students impacted, around five have since transferred to Period 3.

Gieser has declined to comment on the situation.

Thespians president senior Megan McMahon said that because Gieser was needed as an English 2 teacher, the administration decided to disband the theater production class to make room in her schedule.

Theater Production students were notified about the class cancellation through an email sent on Sept. 1 by assistant principal Melissa Stinson. 

“Good afternoon students, we are very sorry to inform you that due to low course enrollment and contractual obligations regarding class sizes, the 7th period Theater class will be closing this Thursday,” according to Stinson’s email. “Your last day of attendance for 7th period Theater will be on Thursday, 9/3. For those students who are not dually enrolled in the 3rd period Theater class and would like their counselor to review their schedule to determine if 3rd period Theater can be added, please complete the Google Form below. 

“Again, we appreciate your interest in Theater and hope you will consider continuing to pursue Theater at SHHS in the future.”

The abrupt change comes after a similar shift a year ago when the seventh period Theater Production and Technical Theater class combined. That forged even closer bonds since actors and stage crew worked together in the same time period.

This latest disruption has also impacted junior Paige Zell’s plan to pursue a future career in theater.

“When I got the email [from Stinson], my heart sank,” said Zell, who was in seventh period Theater Production for a little over a year and has been part of theater classes here since her freshman year. “After high school, I want to be an actor in either live theater or film, and this was my main source of experience.”

Zell currently serves as historian and publicity positions for the Thespians club, continuing to practice and develop her acting skills outside of the school day.

Production assistant senior Andrea Gaspar has also been part of the theater program since ninth grade.

“I had been looking forward to being part of the highest level of theater,” said Gaspar, who saw theater as a source of motivation to work harder on her acting abilities. “I am definitely sad to see it go.”

One parent of a displaced theater student was upset about the change.

“I found it very disheartening, and it feels like the school gave up on an arts program that is a part of the COFA [Conservatory of Fine Arts] department,” said the parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “An opportunity to showcase creativity and our students’ talent has been missed.”

About five students joined the Period 3 class from the seventh period class, but Back, Zell and Gaspar opted out.

During seventh period, Back said the techs learned how to use different tools such as drills and air staple guns to work on sets for each production, while the actors did exercises to make their voices louder and clearer.

Though Back did not join the Period 3 class, she said she is participating in the theater club at school and doesn’t feel the cancellation of the seventh period class will affect her chances of getting into the colleges — like University of California campuses — she is applying for.

Despite the disbanding of the seventh period class, Back said theater aficionados can find solace in a campus club called Thespians Society, which has yet to schedule its first meeting of the school year as of Nov. 16.

“During our meetings, we will have bonding games and separate meetings to hold rehearsals for Thespians productions that are completely open to anyone who could be interested,” McMahon said. “[They will be performed] over Zoom, and we are doing two productions — one that we are going to submit to a festival [Dec. 9] and one that is just for fun and experience.”

When I got the email [from Stinson], my heart sank. After high school, I want to be an actor in either live theater or film, and this was my main source of experience.”

— Paige Zell

McMahon said the virtual production of a one-act play called “Void” will be the one that will be submitted for judging by the California Educational Theatre Association. It’s about a playwright who stopped writing his play and the characters trying to figure out who they are.

The play is being directed by McMahon and sophomore Luca Gerardi, and the cast contains three members.

Although the classes have merged, students such as junior Robert Dickey are planning to stay involved in the Thespians club instead of joining the rookie theater students in period three. 

“I’m planning to stay active and make sure to meet up at Thespian meetings where you can learn more about theater and meet new people,” Dickey said.