Milwaukie High School drama teacher Scott Walker is looking forward to two big events: his induction into the Educational Theatre Association’s Hall of Fame and the opening of “Rhinoceros,” the last play of the season at MHS.

by: PHOTO COURTESY: SCOTT WALKER - Playing a housewife, sophomore Tawnie McAlister reacts after finding out her cat was trampled by a rhino. In the background, from left, are Josh White, Kane Reynolds, Laura Eggersgluss and Jonathan Hausler.On April 11, Walker received a letter informing him that he was a recipient of this year’s Hall of Fame award. He will be formally inducted in July at the EdTA national conference for educators in Cincinnati.

by: PHOTO COURTESY: SCOTT WALKER - Characters played by Milwaukie High School juniors Josh White and Kane Reynolds sit down to argue in a play about how the Nazi party took control in France.Walker was not even aware that he had been nominated for the award, so it was a surprise when he received the letter.

A friend of his, a former drama teacher at Parkrose High School, nominated Walker and put together letters of recommendation from MHS Principal Mark Pinder and Dalton Thomas, a 2005 MHS graduate who was Thespian president.

“I attend the Hall of Fame dinner every year, and I look up to the people who’ve received this level of respect from their colleagues. I love what I do, and to receive this recognition makes it concrete that I’m making a difference in students’ lives,” Walker said.

“It’s a career achievement — the pinnacle,” he said. Recipients must have taught drama for at least 20 years and must demonstrate involvement in their state’s theater educators associations and their state chapter of Thespians.

Student commitment

“Rhinoceros,” playing May 8, 9 and 10, is something of a career milestone as well. The work is seldom seen on a high school stage, and it marks only the second time that Walker has staged a play in the round.

“The play was written in 1959 and is a “commentary on the rise of fascism in France and a reflection on how the Nazi party took over, symbolized by people turning into rhinoceroses, which are solitary, destructive beasts,” Walker said.

In Act 3, the audience gets to witness one character transforming into a rhino, while in another scene a housewife is emotionally describing how her cat was trampled by a rhino.

In that last scene, the other characters are distracted from the tragic event and end up talking about how many horns the rhino had.

“They are not focusing on the issue, they are focusing on the trivial, and that is how fascism was able to take root,” Walker said.

He hopes audiences will most appreciate the level of commitment his students have made to the high-energy, absurdist play with a timeless message.

Staging a play in the round when it was intended for a regular proscenium-arch stage, also leads to “a sense of discovery for the audience” and has been a new concept for his 15-member cast, largely juniors.

“This is the most challenging work. I am really putting them through their paces, and the kids are so excited,” Walker said.

Eugene Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” opens at 7 p.m. May 8, and continues May 9 and 10 in the J.C. Lillie Center for the Arts Black Box Theater, 11300 S.E. 23rd Ave., Milwaukie. General admission is $8.

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