Novato High, a school known for its high-intensity theatre program, makes many opportunities available to students willing to put in the countless hours of work and commitment that comes with being accepted into MSA musical theatre. However, for students that are not quite willing to put in that commitment yet still have a love for theatre, there are no programs available. Perhaps, there should be.
Rodney Franz, director of the MSA musical theatre program, stated that there are many opportunities for NHS students to get involved in theatre beyond the NHS campus.
“There are things like the upcoming English Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition, all students are eligible for that. It is a pretty exciting event, there are big cash prizes and in a non-Covid year, the winner from San Francisco is flown to New York City, all expenses paid,” Franz mentioned.
Another huge aspect of school-run theatre is providing opportunities to students who might be interested in the more technical aspects, including running sound, spotlight, and lighting systems. Franz welcomes eager potential participants to contact him.
“A number of people come to me that are interested in costuming or we have a number of people that are working technical theatre right now that are in other departments,” Franz said. “If people want to reach out and they have desires or things like that, I would be happy to help.”
Currently, on the Novato High campus, MSA musical theatre is the only program running theatre classes for students. While interested students may get involved by contacting Franz directly, there is no drama class elective this year. Yet, this has not always been the case. Michelle Cortez, MSA director and Novato High Assistant Principal, shed light on the subject.
“Ms. Roberts loves teaching drama and so she often will put that class up in the spring [however] if enough people don’t sign up for that, then the class doesn’t run,” she said. “Last year it ran during the four-by-four schedule, and then a couple of years before that it ran as well. This year there were not enough sign-ups to run Ms. Roberts’ drama class.”
Cortez claimed that she is always working to make the arts more inclusive to all students on the NHS campus.
“I believe in multiple pathways to inclusion in all of our MSA programs,” Cortez stated. “What I try to do is to make the foundation class in all the MSA classes available to all NHS students. Granted, the kids who apply have the priority seats in there, they fill it first. If there is room, then NHS kids can take those classes. I will say that we need to do a better job of advertising that.”
If students want to find ways to get involved with the arts, there are always ways to do that if they know the right people to contact. One of the main issues is that they don’t know who they need to talk to.
“I would welcome any student who is interested in any parts of the arts and feel like they don’t want to take two classes but want to talk about how they can stay involved, to come talk to me,” Cortez said. “It’s all about finding solutions so kids get what they need to love school because I think everyone deserves to love school.”
Cortez also said that she and Franz are always looking for ways to get NHS students more involved in theatre. While inclusivity is one thing they are constantly thinking about, Cortez commented that it can be difficult.
“For plays and things like that, at a regular high school, anyone can audition to get into the play. I think that for us, there are so many hungry kids in the theatre program who are auditioning for things,” she said. “It may be a frustrating experience because there are literally 60 kids that are super well-trained to get those parts.”
Even though there may not have been enough interest to merit a whole class of drama students on campus, there should be enough students interested to put on a school production. Ben Gurvis, a Novato High junior and dedicated performer in local community theatre programs, talked about the importance of making theatre available to everyone.
“The masses need to be able to enjoy theatre and explore their interests,” he said. “Even if it’s not the right fit for them, at least they had a chance to try it instead of being cut off after auditioning [and not being accepted to] a program.”
Many other high schools in Marin County and beyond have theatre programs that hold and publicize open auditions. Any student regardless of experience is allowed to audition and possibly earn a role in the school play.
Claire Austin, a junior at Terra Linda High School, talked about interest in the after-school plays that TL performs.
“Usually for musicals [we get a lot of turn out]. For more serious plays, not as much. People like comedies and musicals better!” Austin exclaimed. “Some years, when we want more people to be a part of the program, we do more well-known shows.”
Since the drama class and after-school plays are the only theatre opportunities at TL, they get a good mix of people who want to continue theatre in the future and also who just want to be a part of it as an after-school activity. Austin commented on this mix.
“It’s really 50/50. Half the group of people like to do it and are good at it and enjoy it. The other half are the same, but want to continue it in the future. Both bring the same amount of energy and commitment to the project,” said Austin.
By offering theatre opportunities for everyone, TL continues school-wide programs similar to programs available in local middle schools. This appeals to incoming freshmen, as the shift from enjoying middle school theatre to attending a high school that does not offer a show for all students can be jarring. Porter Note, a freshman at Novato High, discussed his favorite part of school-run shows.
“It was fun that you could work with people from all grade levels,” Note said. “Even though I have a couple of classes that have multiple grade levels in them, in theatre, it was easier to work with [people from other grades] because if we were paired in a scene, you had to work with them. If it is a multi-grade level class, you are going to [want to] work with the people that are in your grade-level more than with a senior.”
Being able to be in shows with your peers allows for deep connections to be formed.
“I don’t think I would be as close to even some people in my grade if I [hadn’t done] theatre,” Note said.
Note also talked about why he did not audition for the MSA Theatre Program.
“Being in [that program] you have to be really really good and it’s like an actual class. Doing a school-wide show is an after-school activity. You aren’t graded on it.”
For this reason, it may be important for Novato High to work on funding one show that is separate from MSA and holds school-wide auditions. MSA Theatre students can focus on their plays and participate if they have time while general NHS students and MSA students from other disciplines will have the opportunity to experience theatre in a low-risk environment.
Note also commented on NHS students’ interest in school-run shows.
“There are plenty of students that didn’t get into the musical theatre program and still go to Novato, so why wouldn’t they want to do a schoolwide show?”
Overall, the reason that Novato High currently does not have drama opportunities open to everyone is because there is not enough interest. That being said, many of these opportunities that are available to students are not being publicized enough to reach the people who might be interested.
It seems foolish to think that all students interested in performing should be expected to commit to a class in order to practice that hobby or that students should know that they need to take the initiative in order to be included. School-wide theatre allows for students to establish lasting connections with their peers and feel more connected to their school community.
Just like Novato High makes an effort to ensure all students have access to a variety of clubs, sports teams, and other extracurricular activities, every student deserves to have access to theatre.