Officers from the Dexter Community Players and Dexter High School Drama Club were out in force with a considerable crowd of supporters at their backs during this week’s Dexter Community Schools Board of Education meeting to voice concerns over the effect of the new alternative education program on their operations.
The alternative education program was created this summer by the school board as one of two new programs designed to better serve students on both ends of the academic achievement and development spectrum.
At the time that the board discussed the program and then passed it over the course of two separate meetings, it was decided that the conference and meeting space in the Copeland building where the school board holds its summer meetings would be an ideal starting space for the fledgling program. Somewhere between the initiative’s board ratification this July and its launch last month, it was decided that student overflow would shift to the space where both drama programs have their black box theater space.
The school board declined to comment in response to the statements made by representatives from both drama groups, reserving public comment for a future meeting if and when district officials decide to take the matter up for public discussion and/or a vote on a future agenda.
Leaders of the local community and schools drama organizations spent nearly 20 minutes making their case with the intent of those statements starting a dialogue between the local amateur drama community and the schools.
“It’s a very important space,” said DHS Drama Club President Kenneth Harvey. He prefaced his comments, as did all of those standing up for community drama in this matter at the meeting, that he is not attacking the alternative education program at all.
Drama club participants soon discovered during scheduled rehearsals that the alternative education program was overlapping the space that houses the black box, when members discovered tables, chairs, and games for the alternative ed students left set up in the black box theater area.
“We are in support of the board’s development of this program,” Harvey said. “We talk today to preserve that space and talk about how it’s going to be managed. Our concern is the loss or curtailment (of this space) could lead to unintended consequences.”
Those consequences involve the drama groups leaning more on the DHS Center for the Performing Arts as a venue for rehearsals and other activities, which would put greater pressure on the space, which is already being overbooked, according to Harvey and others.
“It’s hard to actually get time in that space,” he said. “If we start pushing on these other activities, we could threaten to push these other groups out. We don’t want to do that. We want to bring people together.”
Harvey indicated that it was his understanding that the current alternative education space at Copeland is “a bandaid,” which is supported by discussion between Superintendent Chris Timmis, who initially brought the alternative education program up during a finance committee meeting, and the school board members. As such, Harvey would like to engage the drama groups’ collective leadership in problem solving talks with school officials immediately to expedite that bandaid’s removal.
DHS Drama Club President Bridgette Magnus said she has been with the club for seven years now and has been an officer for three. During that time, she’s been involved in 14 shows going back to her time in the fourth grade.
“Drama has shaped my life,” Magnus told the board, pointing to the black box theater as a distinguishing feature of the local amateur theater community and also a lightning rod for its success.
“The black box is an imperative resource to our young drama students’ development … without it, I feel that students will not be able to reach the potential that I know they can grasp,” she said. A black box theater is an unadorned space designed to be stark and featureless, where drama enthusiasts and experts believe theater in its purest form can be developed and new ideas and concepts can emerge.
The loss of a black box space wouldn’t be the only problem, according to Magnus, who pointed out that nearly 200 students were involved in the DHS Drama Club’s last performance. Getting 200 people, particularly kids, together can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. Losing Copeland’s central location in town, on top of the pressure that Harvey mentioned, would blunt enthusiasm and subsequently reduce participation in the drama programs, she believes.
The DHS gym, cafeteria, and band room are other options that would suit the needs of DCP and DHSDC organizers, but according to Magnus her research into those options turned up that those too are heavily used and trafficked spaces during the school year by sports and band programs that also require a great deal of practice and prep time, not to mention the games and performances that are the end product of all of that preparation time.
She also explained to the board how she felt as a drama club member upon the discovery of the alternative education program’s items in the black box: “It made me feel unappreciated and frustrated.”
Magnus highlighted the accomplishment of some of the DHSDC’s alumni, such as Alexis Benson who recently performed in New York for a Broadway cabaret, among other Dexter area drama program participants who have successfully used Dexter’s amateur drama organizations as a stepping stone to greater things in the broader world of theater and entertainment in general.
DCP Treasurer Will Meurer said that he hopes the drama organizations and the school district can come together and work cooperatively to create an effective and expedient solution, particularly given the players group’s 40 years of background in the community, which involved it being at one time a part of DCS Community Education before being “spun off” several years ago.
“We have worked closely with the schools since then” Meurer said. “We supported the bond that build the new high school along with its performance space the CPA (and) our group worked closely with the schools when Copeland was being transitioned from be an elementary school, leading to the creation of a wonderful unique space for drama right in the center of the community.
Meurer highlighted the fact that DCP pays “thousands of dollars yearly” in use fees for the space, while also highlighting the fact that the Dexter Senior Center leases a much larger space that it uses more regularly for one dollar per year.
DCS Board of Education President Michael Wendorff thanked the representatives and their supporters for coming, before informing them that the board would not respond to their comments as a matter of board policy to not react directly to public comments. No one on the board indicated at this time that there would be a definite discussion item regarding this matter on a future meeting’s agenda.
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