When Whiting High School theater students attended their first classes this semester, they were hesitant, to say the least.
“The first day was pretty uncomfortable,” said sophomore Damen Greenamyre.
English teacher Amy Hollon launched the new program this fall, with help from vocal coach Danni Horwitz, a musical theater student at the University of Wyoming. They said the first few days were uncertain, with students reluctant to take part in class activities.
But the jitters were short-lived, and since then they’ve started to see students grow in confidence and motivation as they learn new skills and perform in front of their peers.
“Even in 2-3 weeks, we’ve seen big growth,” Hollon said.
For Greenamyre, “now it’s pretty normal.” He’s in the midst of writing a monologue as a villain named Professor Ratigan from the Disney movie “The Great Mouse Detective,” in preparation for an upcoming production.
Sophomore Jaylyn Butler said he decided to try the new elective because it seemed fun, even though he wasn’t totally sure what he was getting himself into. Now he’s preparing to play the Evil Queen from “Snow White” in the same production.
“You can be yourself,” he said of the class. “You don’t have to worry about people judging you.”
Whiting principle Scott Shoop said the theater program is a good fit with Whiting’s mission. It gives students an outlet to express themselves, exposes them to the arts and offers motivation to participate in the school community.
“We want to give students one more reason to get out of bed and come to school,” he said.
Horwitz said she can relate to the lure of theater.
“Since I was a kid, it gave me a reason to go to school,” she said. “It’s the thing that’s always there.”
The program’s first production is a Disney villain showcase, scheduled for Oct. 14-15 in front of the Whiting community. Students are each preparing a monologue, song or dance as a villain from a Disney cartoon in which they create that character’s background and motivations.
“They get to pull from these animated movies everyone knows about and run wild with their story,” Horwitz said.
No villainous character is complete without a villainous costume, and that component is taken care of. Naomi Nottage, former owner of a costume shop called the Ballooney Bin, has donated items from her costume collection to the program.
Nottage said her daughter graduated from Whiting about 10 years ago, so she has a personal connection to the school. When she heard about the new program, she knew she had items that could be of use, and she’s been going through her collection and pulling out costumes, props and even hanging racks.
“I’m a fan of theater,” she said.
Nottage said she appreciates the challenges that teachers face, especially this year, and she’s happy to support the program.
“I think it’s really getting the interest of the kids, and that’ll help them develop all kinds of skills — artistic, speaking, English,” she said.
Hollon said the next production this fall will be a steampunk-inspired version of “Alice in Wonderland.” She envisions eventually taking students into the community to perform.