The Denison High School theater department is using its current production to showcase skills students are learning in their core classes. When parents, area residents and other children in Texoma see the school’s production of “Peter Pan” this weekend, they can expect to see students using geometry, engineering and English skills.
The play showed for area students on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The play will be showing for the public at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the DHS Smith Auditorium. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults.
“Building the sets, they are using geometry and engineering and other maths,” DHS Theater Director Nikki Silva said. “They are using other things that they are learning in different classes. In English, you are learning to analyze characters in a book. Here, we are analyzing characters in a play. Children are often like, ‘Well, why am I learning all this stuff in all of these classes?’ This brings it all together for children in a fun way. We are sneaking the learning in in a fun way.”
Silva said that theater is fun for students because they do not realize that they are working on life skills until it is time to show the play.
“I love living in this area because we have a lot of opportunities that Grayson County has given to the fine arts,” Silva said. “It’s really about the human experience. It brings people together. These kids are learning about themselves.”
Technical Director Matthew Schielack agreed that even in the supporting cast, play patrons will see students using skills that may not seem to go with theater. Students will be using physics to give the illusion that Peter Pan is actually flying.
“Learning how to operate the equipment that we use is hard to do,” he said. “Flying people in the air and pulling ropes takes a lot of life lessons. That is very important.”
In preparation for the play’s Wednesday start date, actors and supporting cast members, Schielack said, were pushed to do things that they may never have done before.
“When we break that barrier, you see their eyes light up and they really understand,” he said. “They get it and it makes all the work that we do worth it.”
Senior Christian Gonzalez is one of the students that got it early on during the Peter Pan rehearsals. He will be playing Slightly during the weekend performances. Slightly is one of the lost boys.
“I just like acting,” he said. “I like putting on the shoes of a character, of another person. This is a musical. I also like singing.”
Gonzalez was excited to have the children see the flying during the student-only performances.
“I remember seeing this Peter Pan show when I was in the third grade,” he said. “I remember being amazed at the flying that they were doing. It was so cool. I think Peter Pan is probably my favorite play.”
Gonzalez said that those interested in the theater may be afraid of the work involved, but DHS, he said, does a good job of making work fun.
“Do not be scared,” he said. “Take a risk and audition. You will get a part that will be a lot of fun. After I graduate, I want to go to school and study for audio production, maybe not for theater though.”
Another huge lesson, Schielack said, that theater teaches is how to finish what you start.
“That is hard a lot of times especially when things are hard or when a standard has been placed on you,” he said. “But, it is a good thing. We want them to know that they can do it.”
Schielack said that school is all about putting life lessons in a controlled environment.
“We hold them to a standard because in any job, they will be told to do their best or they will be replaced,” he said. “We want to push them to do more and be more because we know that they can. That’s how we help them develop self confidence.”
Senior Rachel Rosser said that she was shy before she began doing theater. She will be playing Mrs. Darling and a brave girl during the weekend performances of the show.
“Theater is my passion and my main thing so I will try out for every show because I love it,” she said. “My first production was in eighth grade. It was called, ‘Once on this Island.’ That was the beginning of my theater career. I always had stage fright before I did that show. But, when I did it, being an actor on stage just kind of made it go away. After that, I just realized how much I really loved it. I knew that I wanted to keep doing it.”
Next year, Rosser plans on attending Abilene Christian University as a theater major.
“Denison productions are always the best,” she said. “We put so much work into this. We are here all the time. We work on the weekends. We work really hard. I know people are going to enjoy it.”
Silva said that the audiences will really be able to see the joy the students have had working on this play.
“This is probably the seventh or the eighth show that we have gotten to fly in,” she said. “Flying is special to these kids because they have not done a lot of it, but we have been flying for years. We have a beautiful auditorium. We are still playing with it and learning different things about the lights and other things we have here. We just get to play and utilize all of the toys that we are blessed to have. This play lets us play with things that are relatively new to us.”
Children in this area grow up with the arts, and Silva said those are children that appreciate the arts when they are older.
“To sit in the auditorium and perform for more than 6,000 before we even open to the community, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, at that age, the children have not learned to look for the strings,” she said. “They let their imagination run wild. They accept the fantasy. When they get to a certain age, they start looking for the wire, and so it is like no other show when you are sitting in the back and Peter flies out.”
Silva remembers in 2008 when Peter flew through the window during the show and the entire audience gasped.
“I started crying because I just got chills,” she said. “It was one of those moments when the children watching the show believed it was real. It is a really special show. When this school was built, people recognized over the years how much of an impact the fine arts, theater and music lives of children. The wonders that we do are amazing.”
For adults, Silva hopes, that they leave the theater Saturday and Sunday having learned about life too.
“If we got up and did a speech, people would think that we were preaching at them, but this way, they are entertained,” she said. “Through arts and music, people are learning through the back door. We are changing minds and attitudes and cultures without people knowing that we are doing it. Grayson County gets it. I wish more communities did and I wish that they would embrace culture like Denison does. People would see a lot more tolerance in their communities if they embraced this shared experience.”