New direction with ‘Our Town’

As rehearsals start, new director plans to extend theater program to more students

Kansas Gibler

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Jake Goodwin

Reading through lines, freshman Mia Romano preps during the first day of rehearsals for “Our Town” on Sept. 11. The play will be staged Oct. 24 in the auditorium.

The drama department is about to do a full 180 after new drama teacher Jamie Johnson puts her twist on high school theater.
Students are currently working on their rendition of “Our Town,” a 1930’s play by Thornton Wilder. The play will open at 7 p.m. Oct. 24.

“It’s a show that talks about things in life that all people deal with: love and life and death and appreciating the small things around us,” Johnson said.

Johnson aims to make the department more accepting of students from all areas of the school — making students the program’s priority.

“I want to make a name for ourselves as a really inclusive program where students are encouraged to be a part of it no matter what their ability is,” Johnson said. “I want students to feel like they know what’s happening and they’re at the core of it.”

Including students who have special needs is a passion for Johnson, who worked as a paraprofessional for two and a half years.

“I want people who have never been on stage before to get that feeling it feels like when people are clapping for you,” Johnson said. “To feel that support and to get that feedback that I don’t think everybody gets to have.”

Bringing theater to the same level as other extra-curriculars is Johnson’s long-term goal, hoping to have the same popularity as other areas of the school.

“Lawrence High is a great place because we have really solid athletics, vocal music and band, and I think that now is the time to get theater up to speed,” Johnson said.

With productions shrinking every year, the theater program has suffered budget cuts. These cuts have allowed the program to be left in the dust technologically.

“We face budgetary challenges,” Johnson said. “The theater program hasn’t done a lot of bigger-scale things. The financial support gets a little wonky sometimes, and we’re trying to get that squared away. There are just some modern things that we need for the program, so we’re just going to start small.”

The administration has expressed interest in bringing the department to the standards of other larger schools in the area.

“The administration is excited about the possibilities,” Johnson said. “When I interviewed I got that feeling that they were very excited to bring the program up to speed with other 6A schools.”

English teacher Shannon Draper has worked with the theater department for several years and sees a bright future with the new management.

“Ms. Johnson brings a wealth of experience as well as a real joy and love of theater to LHS,” Draper said. “She is also just patently awesome. Her vision for a program that is for all students, designed to benefit all students and involve all students, is one that I am very excited about in that it has the potential to represent the students here in a real and meaningful way.”

Students have already taken to the method Johnson uses — a more mature approach they say has been absent from the program in recent years.

“I love Ms. Johnson, and I think she’s looking at it more from a director’s standpoint to take us more seriously than just kids,” junior Bridget Casad said.

The support is crucial in making the program as prosperous as others in the school.

“It should be just as important as any sport or any other extracurricular,” Johnson said. “We’re here and we’re going to do some cool stuff, and we want everyone to be involved.”