ZHS drama experience helps students build character

The Zachary High School Drama Department recently announced its 2017-2018 season, which will kick off in October. ZHS Drama has set the bar high with past performances, and this year plans to deliver more of the exceptional productions the community has come to anticipate.
“Our program is successful because we run it like a theater company,” said drama teacher Jen Masterson. “The projects we do are our curriculum, and students are constantly moving from one project to the next–getting ready for a project, participating in a project, or helping the program prepare for a project.”

Students sing and dance during a performance of Hairspray in a previous season.

Students sing and dance during a performance of Hairspray in a previous season.

Masterson humbly refers to herself as the program administrator, but her work includes directing some of the shows and making sure the program delivers its productions legally, on time, and within the budget.
“I have my roles just as these students have their assignments. They take on a lot of responsibility, and the program is centered around individual student growth,” said Masterson. “That growth happens through the work in the projects – it’s how the leadership skills develop.”
One example is senior drama student Aidan Hill, who Masterson describes as a “gifted teacher and communicator.” Accidentally transferred to theater in 7th grade, Hill said the program has positively impacted his life.
“I used to be very quiet and had trouble communicating with people,” he confided. “Being in theater has not only forced me to be around other people and learn how to communicate, it’s taught me how to speak properly, communicate my thoughts better, and has given me more confidence in myself.”
Hill said he will likely pursue a computer science degree when he graduates, but the communication skills he’s learned will be helpful. He said he has developed a sense of professionalism because of the quality of the drama program.

Local business support makes guest artist workshops possible.

Local business support makes guest artist workshops possible.

“I feel much more confident interacting in a professional manner. For example, last year I had the opportunity to work on the Manship Student Advisory Board with the Manship Theatre. I worked with my peers to put together a charity show, so I got to work with different businesses,” he said.
Another student leader, Lauren Smith, also believes the program has helped her. “In middle school I was shy and quiet, and I didn’t really know where I fit in at school,” the senior said. “When I got involved in theater in high school, I found that I was actually good at something. I’ve been able to channel everything I want to do into theater. Because the [school’s core] curriculum comes easier to me, theater gives me something to work on that I’m passionate about. It’s helped me talk to other people, learn how to work with others, and create friendships.”

Every production requires students working behind-the-scenes.

Every production requires students working behind-the-scenes.

“[Smith] is an example of one of our students who plays many roles for us. She directs, peer coaches, and does a lot in the community,” said Masterson.
Each year ZHS Drama teams up with the Zachary Charity League to bring fun characters, such as last year’s Grinch and residents of Whoville, to their Christmas breakfast. Service work is one way that students can earn portfolio points for the year, which is documentation at the end of the year of how the students have grown.

2017-2018 ZHS Drama Productions October 3, 5 & 7 @7 pm – The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 (John Bishop) November 7, 9 & 11 @7 pm – A Few Good Men (Aaron Sorkin) February 2, 3, 6, 8, & 9 @7 pm, February 4 @2 pm – Mary Poppins March 22 & 23 @7 pm – Fools (Neil Simon) *limited seating* Tickets for their productions are $12 for adults and $7 for students. Some shows will feature an intermission raffle; tickets are $15, and winners must be present. E-mail Jen Masterson to receive show announcements and ticket information. Performances are at the Visual and Performing Arts Center at Zachary High School, 4100 Bronco Lane, Zachary, LA 70791; www.zacharyhigh.org; 225-654-2776; jen.masterson@zacharyschools.org.

“There’s a lot of stress,” Masterson admitted, “but at the end of the year you really feel accomplished.”
One way Masterson keeps the students motivated each year is by bringing in guest artists to train them. “The guest artists come in fresh…with high energy for workshops,” she explained. “Our improv artist this year trained at Second City in Chicago. He came in with nothing to worry about except working with the kids doing improv with them, and that was huge.”
Masterson noted that such extras like guest artist workshops, are only possible because of the contributions ZHS Drama receives from businesses in the community. “Most of the shows pay for themselves, but it’s the business support that allows us to go above and beyond and bring in artists to train the students. That takes it to a new level.”
The students and instructors will show off that high level of artistry in their 2017-2018 performance season beginning in October in the Visual and Performing Arts Center at Zachary High.

By Holly Felter Rabalais

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