The curtain goes up on opening night. The familiar order is given, "Lights up." The lights go on, the actors begin. It sounds like any other high school play, right? Not here at Fairfax High School. During the production of a show, everything from the sets, costumes, lighting design, and even the calling of the show is done solely by students. While many high school directors choose to control the entire run of their plays, Mr. Smith, FHS's director, chooses to allow his students to run their shows as a professional company would.
"I think it's important that students take ownership of the program and gain management and leadership experience, as well as learning to work within an ensemble," he said.
From the student's point of view, this arrangement is nothing short of advantageous. Among those, several have even found success in the theater world. One graduate of '99 is studying Shakespearean acting at the Globe Theatre in London, a tech from 2001 is studying pre-professional lighting design at the renown Full Sail school of technical theater, and many have gone on to have lead roles in several regional and respected college departments. In the coming years, these numbers may increase.
"I always wanted to become a costume designer," Mauren Pereira commented, "but with Smith's encouragement, I have gotten into lighting and sound design and want to study those in college as well. With the experience I have gotten here, I have been able to put together a portfolio that will get me into any great school. When it comes time to apply, I will have designed costumes for four shows, including two where we constructed them all as well."
Smith's vision has paid off for this small company. The fall's production of Medea earned rave reviews and wonderment from the Cappies critics. "The lighting, coordinated by Chris Miller and James Waters, adds to the flavor and general mood," wrote one critic. "And student-composed music added a wonderfully subtle underscore," lauded Kathryn Minshew.
What it comes down to is this. While allowing the students at FHS so much control on the production process may be a leap of faith, in the long run it pays off. It inspires the company to look beyond high school into career options. As Smith said, "Just seeing my past students succeed in the long run is more of a reward than anything a single play could produce."