By Jennifer Nguyen
La Habra Journal
Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!
The La Habra High School Theater Guild worked tirelessly putting on their fall production, “The Wizard of Oz,” at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton.
With the last showing on Nov. 16, the production garnered plenty of publicity and positive reviews from the community, said Brian Johnson, the head of the LHHS theater program.
Johnson, who teaches English and theater at LHHS, started the Theater’s Guild 10 years ago when he first came to La Habra. Originally, it was just an idea to have a name to go along with the program he wanted to build. With many major performing arts schools throughout the county, like the Orange County School of Arts and the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, Johnson wanted something that would attract students towards La Habra to come do theater there.
Students do not have to be enrolled in theater courses or have any experience in acting to join the Theater Guild. And they don’t have to audition to be in the program either, but they do have to audition for the shows.
There are roughly 220 students in the Theater Guild, and everybody is involved in some way with each show scheduled throughout the year, such as production and backstage work.
At LHHS, instead of having just one activity to focus on, students have the choice to expand their interests.
“I’ve got a lot of different types of kids involved. I have athletes, cheerleaders and honors students,” Johnson said.
For each production, there is one day of auditions. For plays and musicals, there are dance auditions as well as singing and reading auditions. A cast list is posted within the next few days, and rehearsals begin the following day. Each school year has about seven shows, with a new show every four weeks. Everyone involved must work quickly.
“You’re constantly working on something else while you’re doing something else,” Johnson said.
Due to her packed schedule, Kymberlin Martin, 16, a junior, spends most of her time at school, fitting in cheer practice, theater rehearsals and homework time into her daily routine.
“What I love most about our guild is that we all remain busy and exhausted but still manage to get the job done,” Martin said.
Austin Tebay, who plays the Tin Man in the Guild’s “Wizard of Oz” show, said this show has kept him very busy, especially when tech rehearsals conflicted with major homework assignments. In the end, even with the craziness of being so busy, he “wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said.
“Theater – more specifically, musical theater – is what I do and I enjoy every moment of it,” he said.
“The Wizard of Oz” is the most expensive production the program has ever done. The guild rented the Madison Square Garden sets and costumes, and worked with a company that helped provide flying effects for the show. They also contracted with a local pyro technician (who has also done work at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm) to make flame effects possible, which Johnson describes as “unusual and different” for a high school to do.
“We wanted to do something that was a spectacle that would be impressive for kids and adults, something that people would be talking about for a while,” said Johnson.
Other musicals and plays the guild has done in the past include “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Pride & Prejudice,” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Johnson said he hopes that students who come to his program find that they learn more life skills than just theatrical skills. He wants them to learn self-confidence, responsibility and, most importantly, time management.
He said most of his students find that by dealing with the stress of what they’re doing in the program, they’re also dealing with their academic stress more efficiently because they are learning to multitask.
Johnson said that throughout the 10 years the LHHS Theater Guild has existed, he is proud of how far they have come.
“I’m always telling people to just come see our shows. Take the time to come out and spend a few hours with us and see it,” he said.
The next productions the Theater Guild have up their sleeves for this upcoming spring are “Macbeth” and “West Side Story.”