OCHS begins new era in theater with 'Drowsy Chaperone'
The talents of 100 Oregon City High School students will be displayed on, off and even under the stage when "The Drowsy Chaperone" opens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5. The musical continues through Dec. 8 in the OCHS auditorium, 19761 S. Beavercreek Road.
Clyde Berry, the school's new drama teacher, said the show is about a theater superfan who plays a cast recording of "The Drowsy Chaperone" and finds it coming to life in his apartment.
"The plot of that show within the show concerns a Broadway showgirl who has second thoughts about getting married and giving up fame. Her producer is also being harassed by gangsters to break up the wedding and keep her in the show, so they can keep getting their cut of the money," Berry said.
"With a crazy wedding party and host, mistaken identities and plot twists, this zany sendup of Broadway's golden age is a valentine to the past," he said.
In the following question and answer session, Berry shared his reasons for starting the year with a huge musical and described the challenges and rewards inherent in the production.
Why did you choose to do a big musical for the first show as the new theater teacher at OCHS?
Berry: I love musicals, and it has steadily been the first question that everyone has asked me since I was hired 'Are you bringing back the musical?'
School musicals that use every department have always been a favorite of mine, as it shows the students how all of the arts we learn separately fit together. Our amazing choir and band teachers agreed to come on board, making this the first full performing arts production at OCHS in decades.
Also, the budget is structured to provide for a musical every other year — and this was the year. If we didn't do it this year, we would have to wait two years.
Why did you specifically pick "The Drowsy Chaperone"?
Berry: I pick shows that are the best fit for the students, not ones from my bucket list. (The musical) has a large number of leads, as well as the ability to expand the chorus. This enabled me to work with either a large or small group of performers.
The set is a standard box set, but it also allows (Joel Anderson, the newly hired technical director at OCHS) to create lots of tricks to showcase his skills. The content is consistent with shows that have been done in the past. So educationally, logistically, technically, philosophically and by public request 'The Drowsy Chaperone' was the right choice.
What challenges have you encountered in putting the show together?
Berry: The biggest challenge is the fact that this is a transition year, and Mr. Anderson and I are new to these positions and doing things differently. People were thrilled that we were doing a musical, but unaware that it takes more work to put one together than a straight play.
We've had to educate the parents as much as the students as to why/how things are done the way they are. So there's been a learning curve in the community as well. In short, you can't do new things the same way old things have been done and expect to get the same results, but people are learning there is more than one way to produce theater and that different methodology is a strength instead of a liability.
Berry: The kids. It's always about the kids. Watching nervous nonsingers realize they can do it, or nondancers figure out their first jazz square. Theater is all about leaving your comfort zone and pushing your limits.
It's wonderful to watch our young performers find their sense of self. I most enjoy watching large numbers when the students are really getting into it.
What are the advantages to the students who are part of the production?
Berry: Educational theater is more about providing students an opportunity to learn and less about entertaining the audience. The performing arts, and theater in particular, teach all the soft skills that employers need — teamwork, empathy, time management, organization, goal setting and self- confidence.
We are only able to take this next step because of all the previous training and support the students have had in the past. I hired Joel Anderson because he is an OCHS graduate (who was trained by Mark Schwahn, who retired as technical director last year), and he is the perfect bridge (to help with the transition). He and I have a saying: The legacy continues.
What changes have you made to the process of putting the show together?
Berry: We have an awesome National Honor Society that will provide baby-sitting in the Commons, so parents don't have to buy tickets for smaller children. Also, I've started a new program called First Responder Fridays.
For Friday shows only, all former and current first responders with ID get their own ticket for free. It's our way of saying thanks to the people of our community that keep us safe.
There is a talkback after the Friday performance, where the audience may ask questions of the students as far as preparation for the show. Lastly we have reactivated our Thespian Troupe, which is our honor society.
What will audiences like best about the show?
Berry: People tend to come to a show for different reasons, either they love the piece itself or they come to cheer on a particular person. Whether they are here to support a student in the pit, booth or onstage, we think everyone is going to have a good time as a whole.
Everyone seems to be on board, and I'm sure that when they see the show, they'll see the complexity and effort on the stage.
Meet Clyde Berry
Clyde Berry replaces OCHS drama teacher Karlyn Love, who retired last year after 30 years at the high school. Berry is originally from Virginia and has degrees in English, education and theater.
He has taught in several states and overseas; the schools he has worked at include Old Dominion University and Texas Christian University.
Berry has collaborated with several Broadway notables in the creation of new works and for charitable theater education events.
For four years, he took a break from teaching and served as the director of education for an opera company.
Berry has over 300 shows on his resume.