POULSBO — North Kitsap High School Drama Club members raised $1,500 over the summer so they could perform Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”
They had a director and a choreographer. They had a venue: North Kitsap Auditorium. They had a date: Jan. 18-22.
What they didn’t have was a district employee as an adviser. And so, as the students prepared for rehearsals, school officials pulled the curtain on the production.
Some school districts allow members of the community to serve as advisers — athletic coaches, drama advisers, journalism advisers — after being fingerprinted and passing a background check; advisers receive a stipend for their efforts. But North Kitsap School District policy requires that curriculum-related activities be led by district employees; past drama club advisers have included an art teacher and a custodian.
The district’s rules preclude someone from, say, Jewel Box Theatre or Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre from serving as drama club adviser. District Policy No. 2150 states that to be a principal-approved curriculum-related activity, “the group shall be supervised by a qualified staff member” and “all activity must take place on school premises unless approved in advance by the school principal.”
Drama club treasurer McKenna Sanford — a Running Start student who has acted with KCMT and at Port Gamble and the 5th Ave. Theatre — was undaunted. She met with Jewel Box Theatre’s veteran director Sharon Greany and they came up with a possible solution: Jewel Box would become a theater lab of sorts, providing opportunities for students to hone their craft, whether on stage or back stage. The program would include two weekend productions, possibly a musical and a Shakespearean play.
“We’re excited to bring this to the board, but it lets the school off the hook,” McKenna said. “I’m excited but at the same time frustrated. I appreciate the Jewel Box stepping up, but in the end it should be the high school. There are a lot of communities in Washington that have less money than we do, and yet they’re able to pull off shows. It says that North Kitsap cares more about sports and the band program. They don’t care about drama.”
North Kitsap High School Principal Megan Sawicki said she’s working on recruiting a teacher to lead a drama class in 2018-19. She likes the idea of working with community partners, such as Jewel Box, to make drama education available.
“What’s hard in schools is a lot of these programs come and go with passions,” Sawicki said. Programs flourish, then a staff member leaves and the program dies out, she said. The school once had a flourishing ag program; a biology teacher with an ag education background is reviving the program and “the greenhouses are coming back into production,” Sawicki said.
Same thing with drama. The school formerly had a theater tech class, but that teacher left the school.
“We could do a community partnership, but I still need a [staff] supervisor of some sort, someone who is responsible for the safety of the kids and making sure fundraising complies with auditing requirements,” Sawicki said. “But that supervisor could delegate a lot.”
During an earlier interview, McKenna and fellow drama club member Danielle Gunby talked about the importance of the stage as part of arts education. Some people do music, some do acting, they said. The stage is a creative outlet for students with a wide range of talents, a place where you can be yourself and everyone accepts who you are.
Sawicki agreed, saying that drama and the arts help students “explore multiple possibilities of their future.”
‘Won’t happen this school year’
Greany said the Jewel Box’s help, should it be approved by the theater’s board of directors, won’t happen this school year.
“We talked about establishing a teen education program, but it’s just an idea at this point,” Greany said of her discussion with McKenna. “We have to get the backing of the [Jewel Box] board, as well as find volunteers and funding. I’m stretched to the max, so I’d have to find someone to head that up. It’s a long process to make that come to fruition.”
Greany, too, talked about the value of drama education in schools.
“First of all, it gives them the confidence to talk in front of people. It helps them expand their imagination — not only imagining but doing research and doing character studies and portraying how someone else would act [in a situation]. It teaches them about social structure and empathy. They cross boundaries they normally wouldn’t — sexism, racism. It opens their eyes to other side of the page.”
The high school drama program’s last licensed show was “Footloose,” two years ago, McKenna said. The drama program became a club when its teacher left the district. The drama club’s last production was a skit, “The Project.”
Meanwhile, Sawicki said she’s working with the students to write letters to donors to the “Cinderella” production, offering to return their donations.
— Richard Walker is managing editor of Kitsap News Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org