LHHS theater arts department thriving in new auditorium
By DANA DELGADO
The newly christened home of the Liberty Hill High School Theater Arts Department is beyond its wildest dreams.
“It’s amazing!” exclaimed Theater Arts teacher and director Krisanne Cox-Cole, after she and her students had a feel of the extraordinary new auditorium with the recent performance of the musical “Grease”. “The kids are so excited to be on the big stage.”
Julie Serrato, a drama student for three years and stage manager, said the facility makes everything “so much easier.
“It was exiting, a new beginning but with a little anxiety,” Miss Serrato said.
Veteran actress Bonnie McEnnis, who has been performing since middle school and relishes the stage, said the experience of transitioning to the new facility was “overwhelming.
“It’s taken some getting used to,” she said. “It’s so extravagant, but it’s starting to feel like home.”
According to Mrs. Cole, everything is motorized and computerized and the facility has state-of-the-art light and sound systems. The facility has raised seating providing excellent viewing from every seat and includes a beautiful lobby area. Special features include a scrim for fog and smoke effects, a mini-theater for teaching, focus lights, full microphone system, separate dressing rooms and assistive listening devices. In addition, an expansive stage and a large scene/prop shop with easy roll-up doors have made life much easier for Liberty Hill drama students.
The size of the stage is what impressed senior drama student Kenna Wright.
“It is very exciting to have that much room,” Miss Wright said. “It really helps to build your character.”
“There is so much it is hard to describe it all,” said Mrs. Cole.
Drama students had seen other facilities through some of their competitions, but when they saw their new home for the first time all they could say was, “Oh my gosh!” said Mrs. Cole.
They recently played to appreciative audiences a rendition of “Grease” and before that “The Aristocrats”.
Up next for the LHHS drama department is the District 8-3A UIL One Act Play competition in March. For the first time, Liberty Hill will host the annual competition.
Mrs. Cole said that competing on their own stage gives them that valuable home advantage.
“When we traveled, our kids had only a few minutes to adjust to other schools’ stages and that put us at a disadvantage,” she said. “Not this year.”
The Director is still contemplating another production in the spring, but is unsure of which one to do. She indicated her strong cast of singers may just persuade her to do another musical.
Mrs. Cole said she watched with much anticipation as the facility took shape from the beginning during construction.
“My first impression was when it was barely under construction,” she said. “There was a big puddle where the stage would eventually be and there was no end to the work. I thought it would never get done.”
When it was completed, she thought she had “died and had gone to heaven.”
“I really thought it would never happen in my time,” she said.
When she first arrived at LHHS, there was no drama teacher and theater arts had never been much of an interest to her.
“I was a physical education teacher with a background in dance, but had always wanted to become a basketball coach,” she said.
Mrs. Cole had been an accomplished athlete excelling in basketball, volleyball and track at neighboring Florence High School. Basketball, however, was her true love.
“I was very aggressive and thrived in competition,” she said. “I just knew that I wanted to be a basketball coach.”
After earning an education degree with a major in physical education and a minor in English from Texas State University, Mrs. Cole taught in Georgetown for the next 15 years. In 1992, she took the reins of the upstart drama department at LHHS. She wondered what she had gotten herself into.
“That first year, I only had one drama class and I was able to get emergency certification,” she recalls. “The kids had no concepts.”
The first productions were for assemblies only on a cafeteria stage that was far less than ideal.
“I just tried to keep the kids from killing themselves,” the Director recalls.
“It was a horrible stage in the cafeteria,” said Miss Serrato, a junior. “It was hard to adjust to and there was a lot of confusion. It was difficult to put on a good show.”
Miss McEnnis, who has also performed at the Palace Theater in Georgetown, called last year’s venue (the current Junior High School) “a challenge.”
Miss Wright recalls the experience at the cafeteria auditorium as “very stressful.” It was also memorable because it was at the former high school that she got her big break. As a freshman, she was moved to the advanced class to perform and dance on the cafeteria floor. Miss Wright has so enjoyed her experiences in drama that she hopes to teach it one day before eventually become a school principal.
“It’s been so rewarding watching the kids grow and mature,” said Mrs. Cole. “I may never be wealthy but I wouldn’t trade my career for anything. It’s been so rewarding.”
It has been equally rewarding to many students who have participated in the drama department over the years including this year’s group, which Mrs. Cole calls a special group and very talented.
Will Meng, who in his debut played Doody in the recent production of “Grease”, is one of those students.
“It’s a lot of work, but I’ve had fun and have met people who are really friends,” said Meng, who has also shined in athletics including varsity football as a strong safety, track as a sprinter and been a regional qualifier as a power-lifter. “I also discovered I like singing. I’ve played the guitar for nine years, but had a solo in ‘Grease’ and discovered that I was pretty good at it.”
Three-year theater arts veteran Thomas Graves says it was the camaraderie and support of his peers, and encouragement of Mrs. Cole that inspired him.
“Mrs. Cole is fantastic,” he said. “She is like a mother to all of us.”
The junior played the lead role as Danny Zuko in the recent “Grease” production. He also serves as the main technician.
“I love the performances and spending time with everyone, he said.
Graves, who also is a member of the school band as well as the Robotics Club, said the support he received in a one act play as a freshman motivated him to join and excel in the drama department.
“It felt like family, a normal family,” he said. “I wanted to try it out.”
Now in her sixth year in acting, senior Ashton Hood, who was cast as Sandy in “Grease”, calls her experiences in theater arts as a “rush.”
“We had our ups and downs, but as a whole when I look back, it has been positive and I’ve grown,” she said.
Alyssa Pierce, a junior, said she’s had an affection for theater for quite a while.
“I felt I was good at it,” she said. “It’s something I love to do.”
Among the many students who have committed themselves to the theater arts program, Mrs. Cole has taken note of a pair of twins, Matt and Mark Fox, who have set the bar high for others.
“Their work ethic is unbelievable,” she said. “They are such hard workers — coming early and staying late, building sets, and helping with everything and making everyone laugh. Both were in the ‘Aristocrats’ production and Matt also appeared in ‘Grease.’”
The drama program under Mrs. Cole has been so successful over the years that some recent graduates — David Walker and Tanner Wiggins — are pursuing degrees in theater arts at Texas State University. The two majorly influenced the success of this year’s group at LHHS. She said others are likely to follow.
“It’s been a long haul, but we’re finally where we need to be,” Mrs. Cole said. “The new facility will serve the community well for many years to come. “It is phenomenal. We are so lucky.”