For the first time in about 10 years, Butte High has an extracurricular theater group performing on stage.
The young actors and crew present “Shoestring Theater,” a play in three acts that draws from well-known plays, like Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,’’ at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 10-11, in the school auditorium.
Called “Shoestring Theater” because it refers to theater done on a budget, the production has cobbled together a small but enthusiastic cast and crew. They include three freshmen, one junior, one senior and a few East Middle School students, said Todd Whalen, hired as the media and theater arts adviser on a small stipend paid at the end of eight months.
Olivia Boysza, Butte High freshman, said she has never seen a high school-sponsored play locally, so she's happy to be involved in one. She and freshman Cora Brown prefer to have an option to the more structured, comprehensive youth productions at the Orphan Girl Theatre, a community-based program located in the basement of the Mother Lode Theatre.
But funding is a challenge for drama at Butte High. Because the district allots the high school theater club no budget, the students, Whalen and volunteer assistant director Eric Edelman have raised $800 since last fall for operational costs, said Whalen.
“We’re trying to get our feet wet,” said Whalen. “We’ve generated interest in the students, so now let’s see if we can generate interest from the public.”
Janeen Walsh, a BHS English teacher who teaches theater as a class, served as drama club adviser from 1991 to 2003, when she directed at least 30 shows. She never received a stipend for the work, she said.
Theater, like sports, demands many long extracurricular hours after school, on weekends and sometimes before school.
Walsh, for one, said some students who don’t have drama as a regular option miss out because it’s a productive outlet for them.
“A lot of them don’t belong anywhere else,” said Walsh. “Theater becomes a family, a support group. The kids are creative and don’t always fit in regular groups. And they accept anybody; they’re very welcoming.”
Theater plays a traditional role in U.S. high schools. So it’s no wonder Whalen’s crew is doubly excited to perform this weekend.
“Shoestring Theater” gives students the opportunity to learn various aspects of stagecraft, including costuming, publicity, lighting, special effects and in Dominick Brown’s case, set design. Brown is an eighth grader at East.
“Watching the students taking this little marble ball and run with it – I’m pretty pleased with that,” said Whalen, a long-term substitute teacher. He allows students to give feedback on what aspect of theater interests them.
“He lets us give our own opinion and lets us have our own room to get into character,” said Olivia Boysza, a freshman.
Yet in a Class AA school of 1,206 students, fewer than 10, including at least two middle-schoolers, participate. Only two are seniors, Haley Vosburg and Dobby Dobbins.
“They’ve definitely gotten an education, so now it’s drifted over to the middle school,” said Whalen. “That makes my day.”
Dobbins, who took Walsh’s class as a sophomore and serves as an aide, said she petitioned the administration to add a second-year theater club. That would enable students to produce more plays and gain more experience to apply for college scholarships. Other activities – sports, music, art – are more of a priority at Butte High, she believes.
“We wanted a second year theater club,” said Dobbins. “But if you’re into theater, there’s no place for us to advance.
Chuck Merrifield, activities director, athletic director and assistant principal, said the last time Butte High had an extracurricular drama adviser was in 2010-2011. The district has since advertised for the position, he said, but no one applied.
Jim Hope, assistant principal, said Butte High offers one beginning drama class scheduled during the regular school day, but that no public productions come out of it.
“It’s a good thing we finally got it (the club) going again,” said Merrifield.
Now Whalen and Edelman, who worked with the defunct Butte Community Theater in 1981, say drama is on course to bring back plays for the theater-going school and public.
“Let’s get this back and do it for the kids,” Whalen added. “It’s giving the kids a chance to work with professional directors.”