Panic broke out on the Keller ISD Fine Arts Facebook page June 1 after officials posted a teaser video with plans for one big districtwide musical in the fall instead of each high school producing their own.
Theater booster club parents and recent graduates expressed shock and dismay over the change with conjecture that the district was trying to cut costs at students’ expense. The post had 54 comments and 23 shares.
Like dozens of other theater parents across the Keller school district, Colleen Demel had a negative gut reaction when she first heard of the plan. But since meeting June 8 with high school theater directors and KISD Fine Arts Director Kim Blann who explained the concept, Demel has become a supporter.
Demel was concerned about what the change would mean to her incoming senior at Timber Creek, and as president of the Timber Creek High School Theatre Boosters, what it would mean for fundraising.
“After meeting with them, I feel so much better and am really excited,” Demel said.
Steve Tucker, parent of a senior and sophomore involved in theater and president of the Fossil Ridge High School Theatre Boosters, was “not a fan” when he first heard of the change. After meeting with directors, he realized the advantages.
His son, Trey Tucker, is planning to major in technical theater in college.
“My son is excited about the opportunity to work with other directors,” Tucker said.
An additional opportunity
Blann said the teaser video was meant to generate excitement, but “we never could have foreseen the reaction.” Some important details were missing.
“This is an additional opportunity,” she said. “Each high school has always produced three individual main stage shows. We have not taken an opportunity away from kids.”
The districtwide musical is an experiment for fall of 2016, but each high school will again produce an individual musical in 2017. If it ends up being successful, officials could opt to have districtwide musicals as often as once every four years.
The advantages, Blann said, are to allow the pooling of funds for advanced technical equipment and moving sets, and give directors the opportunity to play to their strengths in giving students specialized attention in various aspects of the theater.
Ann Accas, Central High theater teacher and producer of the districtwide musical, said that each of the four KISD high schools will choose what to do for the extra production in 2016-17. A school could decide to do a small musical, a musical review or another play.
People were afraid it would be exclusive, but we’ll have hundreds of kids involved. It’s going to be very inclusive.
Melissa Freeman, Keller High theatre arts teacher
“People were afraid it would be exclusive, but we’ll have hundreds of kids involved. It’s going to be very inclusive,” said Melissa Freeman, theater teacher at Keller High School and director for the districtwide musical.
Instead of having three teachers trying to oversee the details of a big production, more than a dozen teachers will be able to lead teams specializing in various aspects of putting on a large-scale show.
For instance, Freeman said her fellow Keller High teacher Samantha Fields has been a professional stage manager and will lead a team of stage managers (two or three from each high school).
“She’ll be able to train them and help them build their portfolio books for college and focus just on them for the entire run,” Freeman said.
On with the show
Theater teachers decided on the school version of “Grease,” which still has all the popular musical numbers but removes a few short moments not suitable for children. The musical will allow for a huge cast, elaborate sets and high-energy dance segments.
When school resumes in August, the four schools will hold an audition workshop to help students prepare, followed by auditions, rehearsals and a 10-show run Oct. 20-30 at Timber Creek High School, the largest, most modern auditorium in the district. For all the auditions and rehearsals, the district will provide transportation to Timber Creek for students at the other schools.
“We’ll cast more kids than we’ve ever had in any of our musicals, and we’ll use more kids in tech areas,” Blann said.
There will be teams for lighting, sound, sets, costumes, make up, promotion and more. They’d like to have student musicians, but it will be during marching band season in a 6A state year.
Booster clubs from the four schools will evenly split the proceeds from the show.
Demel said the fundraising capacity of the musical is the primary reason TCHS boosters have been able to offer $20,000 in scholarships to theater students for camps and colleges.
Fiercely protective advocates
Putting on a big high school musical is not cheap.
Freeman said that purchasing the rights to perform a show can cost thousands. When Keller High performed “The Addams Family” in 2014, just the royalty payment was $6,000. Last year, they chose “Wizard of Oz” because it was less expensive for the rights and they could invest more in the production.
At a big high school, a musical can cost $15,000 to $20,000. Some private schools will spend two or three times that amount, Freeman said.
$20,000 The amount many large Texas high schools spend on a musical
Blann said that the budget details for “Grease” have not been worked out, but the total should be around $30,000, with each school contributing a share. That covers costumes, makeup and wigs, lighting, set construction, rights and royalties, scripts, programs, posters, tickets, props, sound equipment, set rentals, backdrops, musicians and contract labor.
KISD officials are planning to enter “Grease” in the Dallas Summer Musicals High School Musical Theatre Awards.
They also plan to continue with the Kelley Awards in early 2017 with a slightly different focus. Instead of honoring excellence in musicals, it will focus on each high school’s fall individual show.
Demel said that boosters heard the explanation that the Kelleys have been like the Tony Awards in the past but will be more like the Oscars in 2017.
Blann said that KISD’s commitment to fine arts is stronger than ever. The district has added three additional theater teachers for 2016-17, showing the program is growing.
“We saw a lot of comments that said, ‘this must be about money’ and ‘thanks for cutting arts,’” Blann said. “That was really hard, but it was good, too. It shows us we have fiercely protective advocates of the arts in Keller ISD.”
Demel said, “I was one of those parents who was worried, but now I see all the opportunities. They’re not going to do anything that will be detrimental to these theater kids.”