Albeit smaller than most, George Mason High School in Falls Church City has an excellent theater program, given the school’s unusual size of just 800 students in grades eight through twelve. George Mason’s theater program has recently produced shows such as the classic Cole Porter musical, “Kiss Me Kate,” Daniel Keyes’s “Flowers for Algernon,” and is in the process of producing the social satire “Fools,” written by Neil Simon.
One of George Mason’s theater department’s greatest assets is its exceptional stage crew. Headed by John Ballou, Mason’s crew is one of the most talented in the area. Ballou has headed the school’s stage crew for the better part of a decade, and is also the school’s International Baccalaureate (usually referred to as “IB”) Art teacher. An experienced and gifted technical director, Ballou brings an immense amount of talent to Mason’s productions. Prior to joining the George Mason High School staff, Ballou was a technical director on the professional level, working with more than one company that made it to Broadway. On a more personal level, Ballou is well respected throughout Mason’s theater department.
“His dedication is unparalleled,” said one student member of the stage crew. “He really cares about the shows [that Mason produces], and the students involved in them.”
Actors and crew members alike are fond of Ballou’s unique attitude towards productions. “Mr. Ballou is unique in that he maintains a businesslike attitude towards getting work done, but still manages to make [Mason theater] a lot of fun to participate in,” says a student actor.
Bjorn Westergard, a senior at George Mason, has participated in the school’s stage crew since the eighth grade. He is the chief soundboard operator, which, unofficially, is synonymous with the title of Capitan within Mason’s crew. Being the eldest and most experienced student member of the crew, Westergard has a unique perspective on what makes Mason’s technical team stand out from the norm. “We invest more time into our theater department’s productions than do most stage crews of other schools,” says Westergard. To that he added, “The students who participate in stage crew [at Mason] are really into it. We really enjoy the technical aspects of theater, and contributing to our school’s productions. Our crew’s enthusiasm translates into a higher level of technical performance, in my opinion.”
In addition, Westergard remarked on how John Ballou’s connections to the art department at Mason plays to the benefit of the stage crew: “A lot of IB Art students come and help out with set design. They bring a really great artistic aspect to our productions that wouldn’t otherwise be there.” All in all, Westergard’s attitude towards stage crew seems to be one of great affection. “It’s just a lot of fun,” he said, “I have really enjoyed my years as a part of Mason’s stage crew.”
At the time of this article’s composition, the George Mason theater department is four weeks away from its opening night of “Fools.” As always, things are busy; rehearsals are fully underway, scenes are being blocked, lines are being memorized, and behind the scenes, Mason’s stage crew is working hard on their preparations for the show. “We have some really interesting ideas for the upcoming show,” says Westergard. As always, audience members can expect a show with a refreshingly original and innovative technical performance.