The Harker School's Theater History Spans CenturyBy Special to Harker News Online | Nov. 7, 2011
Harker is proud to celebrate nearly a century of excellence in performing arts. “The Princess,” adapted from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name, was performed by the juniors and seniors of Miss Harker’s School for Girls in 1907 and is the earliest play program held in the archives. It’s clear that performing arts was an essential part of the girls’ education from the school’s inception. The 1928 school catalog notes that the goal of oral and dramatic arts expression is to, “develop self-control and emotional mastery, adaptability, initiative and poise, and to furnish an incentive for the establishment of beautiful speech as a medium of human intercourse.”
Annual spring performances included “Women – Ancient and Modern” (A Farce in Three Acts) in 1911, “Prunella” in 1919, “Rhoecus” in 1920 and “The Arrow Maker” in 1921. During the 1930s and 40s, the school produced one Shakespearean play each year, including “Much Ado About Nothing” (1929), “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1930), “The Comedy of Errors” (1932) and “As you Like It” (1934). Additionally, French language students were required to perform a play in French each year. Throughout the year, all the young women of Miss Harker’s School were expected to participate in a number of one-act plays to “improve their speech and [to experience] the power of expression.” As the school expanded to include younger students, they also performed in various holiday programs and fairy tale adaptations, foreshadowing the annual Ogre Awards of today. In 1944, for a performance of “Osiris, King of the Dead,” the third and fourth grade students each made their own costumes!
In the 1950s, principal Alice Williams wrote many of the plays and skits herself, and the summer program always included a drama workshop for the primary through junior high students. In 1978-79 the student newspaper, The Eagle Examiner, reported that the Drama Club presented “Scaredy Cat” and “Good Manners and Bad Manners.” Then, in 1981, The Harker Academy hosted the first Junior High School Drama Festival, which was conceived and coordinated by drama teacher Erskine Morgan. Competing against Crittendon, Castilleja and Aptos Junior High, Harker won Best Play for “The Rockabilly Nowhere Man.” Morgan also produced the first musical of this new era, “Let George Do It,” with musical direction from Betsy Dods Walsh in 1981, and the Harker spring musical tradition was born. The’ 80s and early’ 90s included such musicals as “Oliver,”co-directed by drama teacher Gina Russ and music teacher Betsy Walsh in 1982; “Annie,” co-directed by Laura Guido (Rae) with Mary Claire Martin and Andrew Willyoung in 1987; “Anne of Green Gables,” co-directed by Crystal Isola and Willyoung in 1988; and “West Side Story,” directed by Donna Morse in 1993.
Laura Lang-Ree joined Harker in 1995 as performing arts department chair to teach acting and public speaking. “In those days we produced about 20 performances each year,” she said. “We now have a staff of 15 performing arts professionals and produce over 50 performances, which include the instrumental programs, Harmonics and Conservatory. In addition to quantity, the quality of productions over the last nine years has been impressive. ‘Pippin’ featured wild pyrotechnics, and ‘You Can’t Take it with You’ was our first full-length straight dramatic performance.” (That play was produced again this last fall.) Lang-Ree also credits the technical theater program, which includes sets, lights, sound and costumes and is led by Brian Larsen, for much of our success. Lang-Ree says, “We are what we are because of Howard and Diana Nichols’ love for, and belief in, the performing arts, which allows me to hire the very best teachers and develop some of the best K-12 arts programs in the country.” Harker received special acclaim in 2002 when the spring musical cast won first place in the American Musical Theater High School honors competition for “Oklahoma!”
When asked about her personal favorite, Lang-Ree quickly cited “Into the Woods,” which has been produced both at the upper and middle schools. “I love it when I can find a musical that is very acting intense and has some kind of message and meaning in the dialogue that I can help the actors uncover.” However, what Lang-Ree says she enjoys most is the growth of a student or a cast as a whole – something the audience never gets to see. “Each year there is always that student, or several students, who blow me away with what they’ve accomplished,” Lang-Ree reflects. “The confidence that I witness being developed through performing arts is awesome.”
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