September 18, 2003


YSHS wants new director for fall theater production

“The kids love her,” goes the general response from parents, community members and those involved in local theater production when talking about Marcia Nowik.

But the Yellow Springs High School theater director who has led the school’s drama club for 10 years will not be recommended to direct this year’s fall play, said Principal John Gudgel.

Though Gudgel declined to comment further on what was called a personnel decision, he said the high school is looking for applicants for the fall play and that the position will be open again for the following productions.

“Marcia has been strongly encouraged to apply for the one-acts and the spring musical,” he said.

At the close of rehearsals for last year’s spring musical, South Pacific, a group of five technical crew members spent the night at the Antioch Theater as a celebration of their hard work. Each student had received parent permission for the overnight, but Nowik had failed to approve the arrangement with either school officials or Louise Smith, chair of the Antioch theater department. Nowik said she was not aware of the policy requiring her to do so.

“If I had known obviously I would have done it,” Nowik said in an interview Sunday. “I regret this whole thing happened because the kids are the ones who are paying for it, and nothing’s been clear to them.”

One thing has been made clear: the Antioch Theater is not available for the high school’s fall, winter or spring productions. Smith said that though the decision to take a “break” from hosting the high school program at the college was precipitated by the large number of Antioch students enrolled in the theater department this year, she said she also found it “bizarre” that she was not informed about the tech crew overnight last spring.

“For me it was about communication, and my discomfort with the fact that something was happening in my building that I was unaware of,” Smith said. “What happened this spring was harmless, but it typified the lack of communication that has been problematic over time.”

Accommodating both high school and college theater programs in one space has been an issue for the past decade, since Yellow Springs High School first began renting the college space two or three times per year. The high school group usually occupies the space for a total of five weeks a year, and the performance dates often coincide with the times Antioch students need the theater for their own performances and senior projects, Smith said.

The collaboration over the years between Antioch and YSHS has been mostly good, Smith said. With better communication and more community support, Antioch could be ready to try to have YSHS back in another year or so, she said.

“It would be great if we could be visionary in the community and pool our resources,” she said. “With good planning we could make something like this happen very well.”

Those interviewed for this story said that over the years YSHS productions have increased in scale and ambition, agreeing that it’s a good thing. Mostly. But fuller sets, larger orchestras, and bigger casts mean more work, longer hours, and a need for more stringent accountability standards. And coordinating all of that is an almost unwieldy job for just one person, something Nowik, Smith, parents, and the Yellow Springs Theater Arts Association (TAA) Board also agreed with.

“Marcia gives her blood, sweat and tears for this, she’s a community treasure,” TAA vice president Tom Siebold said.

Though parents and the TAA Board have traditionally supported the YSHS theater, both groups got even more involved last year by scheduling volunteers to help supervise late-night rehearsals, delivermeals, build sets and fill in the gaps.

“The TAA Board has done an incredible job in the past year getting help, and the parents have been there willing and able at every step,” Nowik said.

But last year, and for the past few years, there has not been an extra person who could assume the huge responsibility of coordinating the production’s foundation: the stage, the lights and the technical crew that make a show come alive.

Nowik said that she plans to read all the school’s policies and make sure she is aware of absolutely all the guidelines she needs to follow in order to be able to continue with the theater program. And having a technical director to help with productions would “make all the difference,” she said.

“I would hope this all gets resolved in an understanding way,” Nowik said. “And that expectations are made clear on both sides.”

The TAA Board in concert with the high school began searching for a director and for a technical director, who this fall will be paid. They have received several applications and letters of inquiry and plan to have a recommendation narrowed down by the end of the month in order to have time to put on the fall production, scheduled for the second and third weekends in November, Gudgel said.

But not having a definite production venue makes the situation more critical, he said. Members of the TAA Board as well as drama club students have been brainstorming about the options. Center Stage was an option in the past, but it is not available. The school is considering the Clifton Opera House or possibly one of the smaller theaters at Wright State University, YSHS senior Rose Blakelock said.

Speaking for the students, Blakelock, who has participated in the high school theater program since the seventh grade, said she disagreed with the school’s personnel decision, but she understood why it was made.

“I still feel it was an unfair decision and it shouldn’t have been made that way. Mostly we just need more help putting the productions up,” she said. “The reason things get so out of control is because Marcia is under a lot of pressure working 21–22 hour days when we’re doing a production.”

Several parents who have enjoyed seeing the elaborate and creative productions Nowik and the school have presented, expressed similar disappointment at hearing the school’s decision to recommend she not be rehired.

“Marcia’s been doing a difficult job well, and when we heard of Marcia’s being let go, we thought it seemed a little underhanded somehow,” parent Norah Byrnes said. “It seemed like a radical step.”

Another parent and TAA Board member, Jerome Borchers, whose child was involved in the overnight, said that the only reason he might have refused to give permission would have been to avoid jeopardizing Nowik’s ability to remain in her position in the future. Borchers said he still hopes that Nowik will be able to return in the spring.

Nowik said that she hopes to be able to put together an independent fall play, open to the community, that works around the high school’s theater schedule so that the students can participate in both activities if they choose to do so.

Blakelock for one said she would definitely try to participate in both productions. And Nowik said she couldn’t not do it.

“It’s the way I process things. Some people do journal writing, I do a show,” she said.

And she also fully intends to reapply for the director’s position in the spring.

“I love working with the kids, and I would like to have whatever problems that have caused this to be solved,” she said. “I’m not here doing anything else but theater with these kids.”

—Lauren Heaton