After hard years, Middle Park thespians look back at how theater helped them |

After hard years, Middle Park thespians look back at how theater helped them

A retrospective by theater director Christal McDougall and students

Christal McDougall
For Sky-Hi News
The cast of "Legally Blonde: The Musical" at Middle Park High School.
Jay Stewart/ Courtesy Photo

When I started at Middle Park High School in 2017, my goal was to create a theater program that encompassed more than just putting on a show at a time on a one-off basis. I wanted to develop a program that would bring students in and retain them — a place where they could learn from each other and hone their skills over a number of years. We reinstated the school’s thespian troupe, which had been dormant for many years. We started the tradition of attending the Colorado Thespian Conference for high school students in Denver each year, and we initiated the acting and performance class as an elective for any students interested in theater. This class also provides students with the opportunity to direct their peers in a one-act play.

Now we have a program that produces three full-scale shows per year and that attracts 35-plus students for each “season.” I have adjusted the performance schedule so that it aligns with the athletic seasons, which enables students to participate in both sports and theater.

Before the start of this school year, after having so many theater students graduate in 2021, I could count on two hands the number of students I was fairly certain would participate in the show this fall.

That meant we had to plan for a show that would be doable with a small cast. In other words, we had to find a show that could run with little to no ensemble but that could accommodate more students in the event that new students joined. As it turned out, we had many new students join the program — both freshmen and students new to Middle Park High School or to theater — so we were fortunate to have selected a show, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” that could include everyone.

Our winter show this year, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” was our first full-length straight play, and it gave us the chance to feature one of our students who is on the spectrum in the lead role. It was a great learning experience for the cast and crew!

Elle's triumph in Middle Park High School's production in "Legally Blonde: The Musical."
Jay Stewart/Courtesy Photo

This spring, we took on “Legally Blonde: The Musical” — a show we knew would be challenging for its heavy reliance on dance but that we knew would be a blast.

I’m incredibly proud of the students who have participated in the Middle Park theater program over the past five years. Seniors have stepped graciously and seamlessly into leadership roles, and younger students have taken on new responsibilities and challenges. Both as individuals and as a group, these students have helped to create a comfortable space for learning, stretching and working harder than they ever imagined — all while trusting and teaching and advocating for each other.

Perhaps senior Sam Hoyhtya said it best: “Throughout high school, I’ve tried out many different activities and friend groups, but when I joined the theater group this spring, I felt like I finally found my home. I wish it hadn’t taken four years.”

Here’s what other students had to say about their experience, prompted by questions from the Sky-Hi News:

How did the events of the past few years — the fire, COVID-19 — impact theater at the high school and how did you all overcome the challenges?

Many Middle Park High School theater students say theater helped them overcome hardships over the past two and a half years.
Jay Stewart/Courtesy Photo

“It was difficult to do theater because it slowed down the production of plays. The whole environment of theater was shut down for a while, but being with the amazing group that we have created made the year 2020 much easier to manage.” — Sarah Lantermans

What role did theater play in the students’ lives in terms of helping them through these troubling times?

“I know that personally theater was a safe space that I could always rely on during hard times. The environment has always felt so safe, warm, and welcoming and I am so glad that is continuing.” — Olivia Kendziorski

What does being in MPHS theater mean to you in general?

“MPHS theater has a whole different environment than MPHS as a whole. The MPHS theater department is a welcoming place where people can be themselves and not have to hide. In general, theater is a safe, warm, and beautiful place with many amazing and talented people.” — Sarah Lantermans

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