Fresh Direction for La Jolla High Drama

La Jolla High’s new drama chief preps students for season’s first show

‘Almost, Maine’

What: La Jolla High’s production of John Cariani’s romantic comedy, comprised of nine short plays exploring love and loss in the mythical town of Almost, Maine.

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 14-15 and Nov. 19-20 (pay what you can performance 2:30 p.m. Nov. 18)

Where: La Jolla High’s Parker Auditorium, 
750 Nautilus St.

Advance tickets: Adults, $10; seniors/military $8; students $7 ($5 with ASB card); 
$2 more at door

Info: (858) 454-3081 or mtreger1@sandi.net

Theater students at La Jolla High School are preparing for their first production of the year under the auspices of the school’s new drama director, Marjorie Treger.

Raised in junior theater in San Diego, Treger graduated from the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) in 1985 and went on to obtain her theater degree from UC San Diego in 1990. She also holds a master’s in theater from Southern Oregon University.

For her first production of the year, Treger chose John Cariani’s 2004 romantic comedy, “Almost, Maine,” which features 18 actors in scenes depicting various stages of love and loss in the mythical town of Almost, Maine.

“It’s an adorable, sweet play that gives me a chance to really know a wide variety of kids for our first outing,” said Treger, who also earned a certificate in acting from American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and whose most recent professional directing experience includes three seasons with Theatre Aspen. “I have two stagecraft classes that are building all the sets and working on the lighting, so it’s an entirely student-driven work,” she said.

The production opens 7 p.m. Nov. 14 in La Jolla High’s Parker Auditorium.

Treger began her teaching career building the drama department at Scripps Ranch High School, where she 
remained for 15 years before taking a job as a theater resource teacher in the school district’s visual and performing arts department, providing support to theater teachers throughout the district. From there, she returned to teach drama for three years at her alma mater, SCPA.

Last year, when La Jolla High’s drama director of 18 years, Ann Boutelle, announced her retirement, Treger threw her hat in the ring.

She said she considers Boutelle a good friend, and once spent nearly a year helping her produce an honors production of Mark Medoff’s “Stefanie Hero!” at La Jolla High.

A resident of Clairemont, Treger oversees more than 120 students either directly or peripherally involved in theater at La Jolla High School.

Although Principal Chuck Podhorsky said Treger came highly recommended, he said it was important to him that she be willing to form partnerships with outside cultural institutions — specifically La Jolla Playhouse — where students can be exposed to the experiences and opportunities that only a professional theater can offer.

“One of the things I said in my interview is that there should be a really seamless transition between the high school and what goes on in the community,” Podhorsky said.

Although the La Jolla Playhouse partnership is off to a slow start due to the company’s current production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (extended through Dec. 15), Treger formed similar partnerships while at SCPA, and has already established a partnership with the San Diego Film Festival (Sept. 24-28), during which students attended workshops on how to produce their own films. “We’re also developing relationships with The Old Globe Theatre, hopefully having some teaching artists come in here and taking our technical theater students there to tour scene shops and costume shops,” Treger said, adding a similar partnership with Old Town’s Cygnet Theatre is in the works.

“I want to make sure that our kids are getting out and seeing professional theater, seeing the different career paths available in this industry, and realizing what a cultural hub we live in here in San Diego,” Treger said, adding that Podhorsky — who began his own career with La Jolla High last year — is already proving a strong advocate for the arts.

“As (author) Daniel Pink would say, an MFA is the new MBA,” Treger said, noting that a lot of jobs traditionally geared toward people with a master’s degree in business administration can be farmed out overseas.

However, she said, “creative problem solving is something that you can’t really farm out. We need to train creative minds for creative problem solving — and theater certainly does that for students. It teaches self-confidence, teamwork and a work ethic. So, no matter what they do in their lives, these skills are going to transfer.

“Theater kids often undersell themselves, but they don’t realize that through rehearsal they’ve learned how to be part of a team and how to work with diversity and how to meet a deadline. Come hell or high water, opening night comes opening night and we’ve got to make that happen.”

Treger, who trained in and prefers teaching an “analytical method” prescribed by the likes of Konstantin Stanislavski, Uta Hagen, Stella Adler, Michael Shurtleff and Sanford Meisner, said what goes on backstage is equally as important.

“The actors are not the most important (component),” she said. “It takes hundreds of people to put on a play.”

Theater also helps students to be more engaged community members, Treger said.

“When kids are involved in a theatrical production it helps them to be more human, more open, better listeners, better problem solvers and more creative overall,” she said. “It’s how we hold a mirror up to society and look at ourselves and feel connected. When we’re in that room together with an audience and actors and crew, that’s a moment in time that will never be the same again — and we all share something special in that moment.”

La Jolla High senior Tanner Perry, who plays Dave in “Almost, Maine” and has appeared in every La Jolla High drama production since his freshman year, touted Treger’s organizational leadership.

“It’s been fantastic (working with her),” he said. “She keeps us focused and on-task and we get things done as best as we can and in as little time as possible.”

Senior Melisa Conroy, who is co-directing “Almost, Maine” with Treger, said her style is “very different” from that of former drama teacher, Boutelle, yet no less inspirational.

“She is very clear to point out the parts of directing that are sometimes hidden, the things that you need to see in the characters that the actors won’t see,” Conroy said. “She’s shown me so much already.”

Treger said she and her students are mulling over a musical to produce at the end of March, in time to qualify for the Ben Vereen Awards, a national high school musical competition named for the Broadway star. Toward the end of the year, Treger said she hopes to forge a partnership with New York University’s playwriting program.

“They want to do a site-specific play that they’re writing specifically for high school, and we’re trying to see if that can happen here,” she said.

Treger said La Jolla High’s theater space has great potential, although it’s in need of serious technical upgrades, including a lighting overhaul and deferred maintenance — something she said she welcomes the community’s help to achieve.

“We’re really excited to kind of be reborn into the community and have lots of people come out and see our shows,” she said. “It’s something they can be proud of and be a part of.”

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