The ceiling soars. Backdrop props that rise two-stories high tilt against a wall.
A room the size of a school cafeteria has costumes jammed into every spare bit of space. A wall of shelves standing 10 feet high and 30 feet wide stacks shoes floor to ceiling.
On stage, massive lights, pulleys, swaths of fabric and curtains stand at the ready.
High above the seats of the auditorium, the booth suspends from the ceiling, housing spotlights, the light and soundboard used to showcase actors and scenes.
These tools, rooms and spaces in the high school auditorium hold the keys to transporting the students of the Payson Drama Department and their audience to other times and places.
This class period finds Kathy Siler, director of the Drama Department and her assistant director, Thomas Walling, debriefing the advanced drama students after they completed their unit on musical theatre.
The two always debrief the class after every major theatrical experience to analyze what worked, what didn’t, and what the students would like to accomplish in the future, said Siler.
The directors sit the class in a circle.
“To close up the critique on this unit: I did talk to the techies about this. It’s not the light or sound person you go to for problems.
“It’s the SM (stage manager). They are your mother, your father, and your confidant. They solve your problems — not the sound person or the light person or the props person. That is how they do it in the real world,” said Siler.
The drama students listen and nod absorbing the feedback.
Siler took over running the Drama Department after her husband passed away earlier this year.
John Siler built the Payson Drama Department from scratch 20 years ago. From the meager beginnings of one class, the department now offers beginning and advanced drama classes. The troupe has a reputation for excellence around the state and regularly wins awards.
John dreamed of training kids to make a career in the theatre arts. His wife stays true to that vision.
“We want these kids to see possibilities in their lives. We’re training them to be critical thinkers and team workers,” said Kathy.
This year, three seniors from the tech side of drama presented a portfolio of their greatest accomplishments to the University of Arizona (U of A) and other colleges to apply for scholarships. All of them were called back for interviews.
Brooke Collins, Ashely Parker and Drew Kofile look forward to going onto college to study theatre tech.
“My specialty is lights,” said Collins. She plans on starting her college career at Gila Community College and then move on to a four-year university.
“I’m going to Grand Canyon University and then hopefully onto the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I want to study stage managing,” said Kofile.
“I’m going to study stage managing at Eastern Arizona College with a full tuition scholarship and then I’ll transfer to U of A,” said Parker.
For their portfolios, each of the three students picked a favorite production they managed in their specialty.
Collins felt most proud of her work on the lighting in “ADDICT.” Kofile enjoyed doing the sound, set, makeup and lighting for “Hot Property” and “Hello Dolly.” Parker liked being stage manager for “Up the Down Staircase.”
Besides talking about their successes, each had a story from an “oh no!” situation.
“There is always something that goes wrong. In the ‘Three Musketeers’ production, I was part of the paint crew. We didn’t get the sets finished painted until shortly before the curtain went up. We had to tell the actors to not touch any of the sets,” said Parker.
“My ‘oh no!’ moment came with ‘Up the Down Staircase.’ The day we were to put the lights up, only half of the dimmers worked.
“I had to spend the whole day trying to figure out which dimmers worked. By the end of the day, only one didn’t work. But I figured that out by show time,” said Collins.
“Sometime we’re prepared for one thing and another goes completely wrong.
“In ‘Peter Pan’ we had flying effects for the actors. They had to be in the exact position or the equipment became temperamental. We had one actor who had to roll onto the stage (because her flying equipment malfunctioned). She fell into a platform,” said Kofile.
“It was perfect because she squawked like a bird. No one knew anything was wrong except the actors,” said Collins.
Next year, the Drama Department will qualify as a Career Training Education (CTE) class, said Walling.
Kathy and Walling look forward to upgrading the tech training with computers and a CAD program to help lay out productions.
“If you have a good, reliable tech, they are in high demand,” said Walling.