New Theatre Opportunities For KCUSD Middle & Elementary Schools

Feb 24, 2024 | 2024 Articles, Education, Lorie Lewis Ham, Reedley News, Theatre

by Lorie Lewis Ham

While Reedley High School has been well known for its theatre productions for quite some time, I recently became aware that theatre was happening at some Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD) K-8 schools in Reedley, so I set out to learn more. Little did I realize that this actually began last year and somehow slipped under KRL’s radar, with the first show, a production of High School Musical Jr., performed by TL Reed students at Silas Bartsch.

I reached out to KCUSD Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator (VAPA) Coordinator Jimmy Loomis to find out more and got the chance to interview not only him, but some of the other staff members involved! Jimmy oversees all music, drama, and visual art programs for the district.

KRL: Can you tell us how this all got started?

Jimmy: This started last year when T.L. Reed expressed interest in presenting a production of High School Musical. We were able to use Silas Bartsch as the performance venue and the kids did a great job! This has continued this year through Beauty and the Beast (performed at Reedley High School) as well as Silas hosting their own production of Wizard of Oz. The recently passed Proposition 28 funds are helping to support these productions and we look forward to additional innovative products in the years to come!

KRL: Will there be other schools involved this school year? Or next?

Jimmy: It’s a work in progress. At present, T.L. Reed and Silas are the sites that have expressed interest. As we continue to provide these opportunities, I fully expect other sites will want to join in. We’ll wait and see how this develops!

KRL: Who produces/directs these shows?

Jimmy: Currently, the T.L. Reed production is directed by Tony Cortez, campus assistant at TL Reed. The show was produced by Learning Director Stacy Atria, RHS PAT Technician Steve Jones, and myself.

The Silas production is directed by Josephine de la Rosa, 6th grade teacher, and supported by Rosalinda Pena. The show is produced by Principal Reginald Wagner, RHS PAT Technician Steve Jones, and myself.

KRL: Why only two performances each?

Jimmy: Since we’re building this slowly, the sites determined that a couple shows was the right amount of commitment for the kids and their families. I see this growing over time.

KRL: Why do you feel like this is something important for the students to be able to do?

Jimmy: Theater is such an important opportunity for children to have access to! I firmly believe that it brings people out of their shell and allows them to experiment with a character in ways that our normal daily lives never allow for. I am excited to support these opportunities for our students and hope to see it grow over time, eventually leading to expanded opportunities at Reedley High School as well!

Antonio Cortez, Jr., Campus Assistant at T.L. Reed School, T.L. Reed Show Director

KRL: How did you become involved in these shows and is this a new program for KCUSD Middle Schools?

Antonio: The idea of staging a musical came to me years ago when I was employed at an after-school program. I always had a love for musicals as a kid, my favorites being the High School Musical series, and Grease. I wanted to lead an enrichment there, luckily, I had the opportunity to learn under a co-worker named Aaron Mendoza. Together with another co-worker, Eduardo Estrada, we put on a production of The Lion King Jr. Safe to say, it was a success. I, along with the students, had a blast.

But, my love for High School Musical made me feel like there was something more that I wanted to do. Fast forward four or so years, I was in a new position with the District. This position allowed me time at the end of my workday to be able to coach sports, and put on another show. With that, there was no question as to what show I was going to be leading. In spring of 2023, T.L. Reed staged a production of High School Musical Jr. With the feedback that I received from the students post-production, it was something that I felt needed to continue the following school year as well.

T.L. Reed’s production of “Beauty and the Beast”

Fast forward to this year, T.L. Reed staged Beauty and the Beast for the 23-24 school year. As far as if this is a program for KCUSD middle schools, at the moment I don’t believe it is. But, with the growth of interest in students within the District, I won’t be surprised if it is a KCUSD program in the coming years.

KRL: Will there be others this school year? Or next?

T.L. Reed’s production of “Beauty and the Beast”

Antonio: We only do one show a year, as it provides me time to partake in my other passion, which is coaching. Next year, we are looking forward to putting on another production, and have already started looking at titles.

KRL: Is it an open audition at each school?

Antonio: T.L. Reed hosts auditions for grades 6th-8th. We are currently looking into the possibility of opening auditions for 5th grade as well.

KRL: How long of a rehearsal period is there?

Antonio: At T.L. Reed, we had approximately a four-month rehearsal period. Our rehearsal periods are quite some time due to Thanksgiving and Winter break. As well as being peak soccer and basketball season. We have to extend the rehearsal period because we need as much time as possible to make sure all cast gets an adequate amount of rehearsal time.

KRL: How were the shows chosen?

T.L. Reed’s production of “Beauty and the Beast”

Antonio: High School Musical was chosen based off of my love for the movie. However, with Beauty and the Beast, I felt I wanted to challenge myself as a director and put on a Broadway version of a timeless classic. For next year’s show, things become tricky. There are many things that we have to take into consideration. First would be facility use as well as choosing a show that will showcase the talent of next year’s cast.

KRL: How did Beauty and the Beast go? Was there a lot of student interest and participation?

Antonio: Beauty and the Beast turned out to be fantastic. The students really rallied around each to put on their best performance possible. Student interest definitely did spike. There were many students who were not in the show that came out to watch, and the feedback and interest from them, have me beyond excited to see how much this will grow next year. From last year to this year, we had about a 10-student increase in cast size. I only expect that number to grow next year.

KRL: Is there a cost to attend the shows?

Antonio: Our shows are free and open to the public.

KRL: Why do you feel like this is something important for the students to be able to do?

T.L. Reed’s production of “Beauty and the Beast”

Antonio: I feel that something like this expands the minds of our students. It adds variety to their life that they wouldn’t otherwise have. It helps their self-confidence and social skills. More importantly, it’s a memory they will have for a lifetime.

Stacy Atria – Learning Director at T.L. Reed School

KRL: How did this all come about?

Stacy: Our Campus Assistant, Tony Cortez, came to us with a passion to bring theater to the Middle School students. He started last year with the production of High School Musical Jr.. It was a big hit, performed at Silas Bartsch School. This year, our T.L. Reed students were excited to hear the announcement of Beauty and the Beast. It was a much larger cast and huge undertaking for our Campus Assistant.

KRL: Why only 2 performances each?

Stacy: Last year, we only had one performance and realized that the students needed another night to show off all their hard work. More performances would mean taking over another venue for a longer period of time. Since we do not have a stage at T.L. Reed, we have to borrow the space. A Friday night show and a Saturday matinee worked great!

KRL: How were the shows chosen?

Stacy: Mr. Cortez would find a few plays that he thought would be good for the grade levels and get student input.

KRL: How did Beauty and the Beast go? Was there a lot of student interest and participation?

T.L. Reed’s production of “Beauty and the Beast”

Stacy: Beauty and the Beast was a hit! Students, staff members, family, and community members did a great job filling the PAT at Reedley High School. The energy was high and the parents were so thankful for having this opportunity available to their children. We had over 40 students in the cast and stage crew. After the play we have students asking about next year. The interest is definitely increasing.

KRL: Do you know where the shows will be performed next school year? And I understand there wasn’t a cost to attend.

Stacy: We are not sure where the play will be next year since Reedley’s PAT will be under construction. All shows are free! We want to fill the seats and provide a fun experience for all our families and community members.

KRL: Why do you feel like this is something important for the students to be able to do?

Stacy: Having the option to participate in theater at the Middle School level inspires students to consider taking drama and performing in High School productions with confidence. They gain public speaking skills and learn to work as a team. Our drama club dedicates months of the school year to bring a show to life. Many students participate in multiple sports throughout this time as well. They learn time management, getting homework completed, going to rehearsals, then participating in sports. I am so proud of the hard work shown from our cast, crew, and director!

Reggie Wagner principal of Silas Bartsch School

KRL: I know your school is performing The Wizard of Oz on March 1 and 2, how did that come about and can you tell us more about the experience so far?

Principal Wagner: We were inspired by last year’s T.L. Reed production of High School Musical. They asked to use our stage, and we gladly offered our facility for their performances. Upon seeing and hearing their dress rehearsals, our staff and students proposed the idea of putting on a show of our own. Ms. De La Rosa, one of our sixth-grade teachers, volunteered to be the director. Ms. Peña, a kindergarten teacher, and Mrs. Frias, a fifth-grade teacher, decided to join the Performing Arts cadre. The first audition meeting was well-received, with a standing-room-only student crowd.

Although Ms. De La Rosa doesn’t have formal theater experience, she has directed the school’s talent show for many years. The teachers are very enthusiastic about guiding the students in developing their acting, singing, and dancing skills. Mr. Ham, one of our VAPA Technicians, will be supporting as well. Our district’s VAPA department, under the leadership of Mr. Loomis, has made arrangements to work with the Reedley Opera House on costumes and props. In addition, our district is supporting us with a new stage curtain, which we didn’t have before, as well as upgraded sound and lighting. We are very excited that our stage facility will be used not only for our productions, but for other KCUSD schools and departments who wish to use it.

The entire team is currently working hard to coach the students in learning their lines, songs, and choreography. The Wizard of Oz was chosen because the team agreed it was a good debut production due to being well-known with songs and choreography that are very accessible to beginning actors and actresses. We have a range of students from second grade to eighth grade in both main parts and ensemble roles. The Wizard of Oz lends itself to younger students and beginners due to the ensemble scenes that take place in Munchkinland and the Emerald City.

With a younger cast and a new team, we decided on a full-dress rehearsal, an evening show, and a matinee. As our Silas Bartsch Performing Arts Program continues to grow, we will look at more advanced productions in the future with additional performances.

Our students are tremendously excited to be a part of the Wizard of Oz cast. It’s an opportunity for students to develop and showcase their talents, and bond with other students while learning the traditions of the theater. We expect this year’s cast members to return for future productions and continue to grow their talents as they do so. Eventually, we hope to see our students move on to high school and even college productions. We want to provide a variety of co-curricular opportunities for our students, and a theater production was a logical next step to offer to our students. We know that participation in co-curricular activities produces many positive outcomes for students, and we are very proud of our team for bringing this opportunity to Silas Bartsch.

KRL: Will this show be free just like Beauty and Beast was?

Principal Wagner: For this year’s performances, tickets will be free, but family members of cast members will have first priority, followed by other staff and students.

Thanks to all of the KCUSD staff members who took the time to answer our questions! It’s great that they are getting kids involved in theatre, and I hope there will be much more in the future!

The Wizard of Oz will be performed on March 1 at 6:30 p.m. and March 2 at 1:30 p.m. at Silas Barsch 2225 E North Ave, Reedley. You can contact the school for more information (559) 305-7360.

If you love theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section. You can also find more theatre coming up on KRL’s Local Theatre event page.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet. Lorie’s latest mystery novel, One of Us, is set in the Tower District of Fresno and the world of community theatre!<


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.