The Evolution of HBA Theater

Junior Dorian Ho (center) played Donald and Mr. Kolhenkov in HBA’s 2015 fall play, “You Can’t Take It With You.” (Photo by Ryan Su)

You stand centerstage, breathe in the quiet, and remember all those who’ve graced this space before you.

Under these lights, hundreds of students have spoken and sung stories to life. Nerds and jocks broke the status quo, seven brothers wooed seven brides, and a young refugee found his identity. Twice a year, the high school Theater class puts on productions here, at HBA’s elementary school auditorium. Despite the tattered seats and battered stage, the auditorium has a magic of its own. Ask anyone who’s performed on its stage.

Junior Dorian Ho, who most recently portrayed an Indian restaurant owner and a street smart runaway this past fall in “Anonymous,” never intended to join Theater. In his freshman year, Ho found himself acting in the fall play when he failed to get his first and second choice electives. “I didn’t really sign up for [Theater]. But I came back again because it was really fun and I made a lot of new friends…I got to be myself on stage and I got to show people that I’m more than just the person they see at school,” said Ho.

While Theater is often regarded as one of HBA’s most enjoyable electives, the course is no easy A. The Theater teacher, who also serves as the director, holds individual auditions each semester. Every student presents a monologue and in some cases a song to the director, who may ask a panel of teachers to sit in on the auditions to provide additional judging input. After casting is complete, students commit to memorizing lines outside of class and attending after school rehearsals, weekend set building days, and performing in four shows.

Despite the substantial time commitment and diligence required of the actors, Ho stressed that his least favorite part of the production process is not the long hours of preparation, but the foundation and eyeliner every actor is required to wear during performances. “I hate make-up a lot because it takes so much time and then you end up sweating, and then it looks really ugly,” he said. Ho has performed in six consecutive productions on the HBA stage. Of all the characters he’s portrayed, Ho chose Mr. Kolhenkov, the offbeat Russian ballet teacher from “You Can’t Take It With You,” as his favorite. “[Kolhenkov] was a really absurd character that I didn’t see myself playing well, but it was just a really fun character to play, and it was a really fun show too. Because it was Mr. Logan’s last show, we all staged it together as a group,” said Ho. Chad Logan served as the high school’s longtime Theater teacher until December 2016. Many of the upperclassmen credit Logan with inspiring them to act on HBA’s stage.

Over a semester of class periods, collaboration, rehearsals, and performances, the cast bonds over fond memories and inside jokes that often remain remarkably funny even as the years pass. Ho reminisced about his very first play, a slapstick comedy called “Take One.” He described the rehearsal of the whipped cream pie fight with a chuckle. “There was the pie scene, and Caleb and Uza ran on the stage, and Caleb… slipped [and fell], and I thought the stage was going to break!” said Ho.

Like Ho, senior Makenzie Cammack is a veteran of HBA Theater, and she’s well-known for her irrepressible enthusiasm both on and off stage. Her career began when she landed the role of Kelsi Neilson in the 2014 spring production, High School Musical, and since then she has performed in three other productions. The next year, Cammack tackled her sophomore audition with boldness. She landed the supporting role of Alice, the sweet-spirited daughter of the town preacher.

“I think Alice reflected where I was as an actor. My freshmen year, I was definitely more shy and timid on stage, but in my sophomore year, I was much more confident and more excited, and I feel that Alice reflected that and was a nice outlet to put my passion into. She was a character I could really relate to,” she said.

This year, students were challenged to explore a different style of Theater when Antonio Anagaran became HBA’s Theater teacher.
A part-time pastor and part-time actor and director, Anagaran has a wealth of professional experience acting in both film and theater. Anagaran’s choice to stage “Anonymous” during the fall semester challenged students to be resourceful and creative in their acting. Unlike previous directors, Anagaran chose to produce the show with a minimalist set and plain costumes and tasked the actors with staging many of their own scenes.

“For ‘Anonymous,’ I think the story was a really essential element. And so I have kind of the thrust of what I want to accomplish in the show, but I would say even more than that element is what the collaboration brings to the table. I really rely a lot on the actors and students to put the wind in the sails,” he said.

Freshman Piper Rabang, who took the Intro to Theater class with teacher Dawson Vorderbrugge, is excited to be joining the cast this semester. “I joined Theater because I like that drama stuff and I didn’t have that at my old school, so I thought that was something interesting and new to try,” said Rabang.

In addition to learning how to control her voice, create tableaus, and stage her own scenes, Rabang values the relationships she’s built through Theater. “I like that I get to hang out with upperclassmen because it’s a good way to make friends,” Rabang said. “Also…we’re doing a musical now. That’s pretty cool.”

Rabang and her castmates are currently preparing for their spring production, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” which will be performed in the HBA elementary auditorium on May 4, 6 and 11. The show is a series of vignettes that provide unique perspectives on everyday life – from the magic of hide and seek to the art of geek dancing – and show how we can reclaim some of our childhood joys.

The show is a series of vignettes that provide unique perspectives on everyday life – from the magic of hide and seek to the art of geek dancing – and show how we can reclaim some of our childhood joys.

Ironically, going “back to kindergarten” this semester has caused many of the student actors to look to the future of the Theater program. Cammack has big dreams for the Theater Department. “The whole mountainside should be knocked out to be turned into a giant theater and auditorium, bigger than a Broadway stage. We would have tons of money. There would be different theater courses like acting and directing and stage design.” Cammack paused, then laughed. “My realistic dream? Air conditioning.”

Like Cammack, Ho also has a vision for a growing HBA Theater program. “I would like to see a lot more people get involved and maybe fix up the auditorium or something, for sure. I really want to see it grow in the future because I really like theater and I think it’s a super fun class, and I want people to experience that.”

As a director, Anagaran is excited to see his students grow as actors and as artists who know how to work with one another. He also hopes that his students will be more willing to collaborate with one another, take risks, and understand that the creative process requires time and continual revision. “If I’m not giving space to fail, then I think people are less likely to risk. I would say trying and failing is okay. Sometimes in the failure is the genius,” said Anagaran.

Whatever the future may hold in store for the Theater department, the class has impacted many audience members and actors alike. Ho reflected on how being a part of the program has changed his life. He said, “I feel like I can be more myself because people see me onstage and I get to portray funny characters, serious characters, so I feel like since I showed them on stage, I can be like that in real life too. Like, I don’t have to wear a fake personality when I’m around people.”

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