Under the leadership of new drama teacher Stacey Allen, plays at La Jolla High School this year will be a little more intimate. That’s not to say there won’t be a big musical (it’s “Little Shop of Horrors” this year), but to get into the raw nature of acting, several productions will be pared down.
The department’s first production, “The Diary of Anne Frank” was staged Nov. 9-10 in a “black box” style, which is characterized by simple stage designs and seats that surround the stage.
“I like doing smaller productions because they are more intimate,” Allen said. “The actors feel the energy of the audience because the audience is right there with them. If the audience shifts in their seats, the actors know it. They develop a closer relationship with the audience and the audience, too, is more drawn in.”
For the actors, he added, “It challenges them to be true. You can’t really hide in a black box show like you can in a bigger production or a musical. Plus, the audience draw here is about 100 people and if you put 100 people in the blue seats (of Parker Auditorium), it looks empty. So doing things in a black box style creates a fuller house through a smaller setting.”
In addition to the black box shows, Allen will stage four improv shows with the school’s troupe; “coffee house” performances, which Allen said are like talent shows or what you might see at an open mic coffeehouse; and if you can believe it — dinner theater.
“I like doing small scenes — especially episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone’ and things like that — and doing them in a dinner theater-setting directed by students. The students wait the tables, do the show, it’s fantastic. People are going to love it. The students think it’s awesome,” he said. “One of my biggest philosophies is to give students as many opportunities to do as much theater as they possibly can in the different areas. … I want to see how my kids can take what they’ve learned to the stage. I will design sets and a production, but they are going to do the work. If it’s not the students’ work, it doesn’t matter how glorious it is.”
Senior Sarah Quilkey, who plays Margot Frank in the ‘Anne Frank’ production, said she appreciates Allen’s fluidity when it comes to student ideas. “(Allen) will go with our suggestions and let us take things where we want to take them. I tried to bring my cat so we could have a real cat on set. It didn’t work out, but it was cool that Mr. Allen let us try that. I’m impressed with him so far,” she said.
Added fellow senior William Andrews, “He gives the actors a lot of freedom over how they choose to go about their characters. He doesn’t force us to do a certain character a certain way; he focuses more on how we’re doing things and why. We talk a lot about how our characters would react to something and why we would do something.”
The actor-turned-teacher came to La Jolla High School after 20 years of teaching at Clairemont High. During that time (and for more than 10 years leading up to it) Allen acted in professional productions with the Old Globe Theater, La Jolla Playhouse and Lambs Players in Coronado.
And as the students get to know Allen, he is getting to know them. He said he is taking his year at the helm to get to know the talent available, before taking on larger productions. “I want to see what we have here,” he said. “If we have a lot of guys, maybe we could do ‘West Side Story.’ If we get a lot of guys that can sing, I would love to do ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or ‘Les Misérables,’ and I wouldn’t mind doing ‘Sweeney Todd,’ but I need male vocals for that. I’m going to base future choices on the talent that comes in the door.”
But as for a bucket list, Allen said more so than certain productions, he’s focused on the students’ growth as performers.
“It’s about getting students engaged in what we do, regardless of the show,” he said. “Even if it’s just an evening of scenes, if it’s engaging them and getting them to work cooperatively and get them producing, that’s my bucket list. Are they doing the work? Are they enjoying it? Are they learning? If we can do that every show, every year, I’m happy.”