Curtain comes down on Fergus drama program: School hoping to bring program back

Fergus senior Andrew Coolidge, center, shares the stage with other members of his drama class during their production last year. Coolidge said he is grateful for having the opportunity to take drama class and hopes to see a drama program return to FHS.

Photo by Charlie Denison

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

Drama class is dismissed.

And, at Fergus High School, it’s undetermined when class will resume.

With no more drama class at Fergus High School, the future of the drama program is in question.

“Drama has been a tradition at Fergus since the early 1970s,“ said Sandy Armstad, newly retired Fergus drama teacher. “It’d be a shame to let it go away.”

Armstad was first and foremost a world history teacher at Fergus for 40 years, but her dedication to the drama department was an integral part of her career at the school. The drama department, however, has seen better days. For the past five years, there have been no tryouts and no productions other than plays put on by Armstad’s drama class.

“I directed plays for 25-plus years,” Armstad said, “but when I lived 15 miles from town and had small children, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Luke Brandon did it for a while, too, but we just couldn’t keep it going.”

It’s hard to keep a drama program going like Monte Ferguson did when Armstad was a student at Fergus.

“We had a really strong program back then,” Armstad said. “We had a class play, a senior class play, a Vaudeville show, a Thespian Club and more,” she said.

Experiencing this program firsthand made it a goal of Armstad’s to keep a drama program going as long as she could. After all, it was the drama program that helped her find direction in life. She hoped the class could serve the same purpose for students who shared her passion.

“A drama program can build a lot of confidence and provide all kinds of skills,” Armstad said. “You have to learn your lines, learn to work together with other people and perform in front of an audience. It’s a great way to feel like part of something.”

Many students at Fergus – past and present – have benefited from the drama program, Armstad said. One of those is Heather Wiegert, a 2016 Fergus graduate.

“The thing I loved about drama was the freedom of it all,” Wiegert said. “Whether it was in the classroom or when we were rehearsing the play, we had freedom to be whomever we wanted. No pressure, no judgments.”

The class was also diverse.

“We had people from every different part of the school in drama class my senior year: band kids, basketball players, dancers and anyone who wanted to be there,” she said. “It was a really safe space.”

Armstad’s approach to the class helped make drama a positive influence in Wiegert’s life.

“She accepted everyone as long as they were polite,” Wiegert said. “It didn’t matter what they looked like or what they believed in.”

Drama classes all over the country share this environment of acceptance, which is why Wiegert believes drama programs are needed in schools, whether as an after-school activity or as a class.

“Drama class is a place of free expression, just like any fine arts class,” Wiegert said. “To get rid of it would be like getting rid of the art classes next door.”

Andrew Coolidge, a senior at Fergus, agrees with Wiegert. He took drama class last year and loved it.

“I got to do something I genuinely love to do while positively interacting with students I both knew and didn’t know,” Coolidge said. “Some of those I didn’t know I now consider friends.”

Drama class also allowed Coolidge to “have fun in a classroom setting while learning about what fine arts are all about.” Not having this course available in the future would be a letdown for future students with similar interests, he said.

Whether a student wants to pursue art or not, Coolidge said it’s important for a school like Fergus to “have a well-rounded curriculum with a myriad of fine arts and other electives,” and drama is instrumental in fitting that bill.

“I sincerely hope we can revive the drama program for next year,” he said.

If drama class can’t be restored, Wiegert and Coolidge both said they’d at least like to see a school play again.

“If [the school play] came back with a few teachers running it who really cared about it, I think the production could be a big success,” Wiegert said.

 

Looking for interested parties

 Vice Principal Jeff Friesen said he hopes to see the drama program revived as an activity.

“With [Armstad] leaving, it leaves a void,” Friesen said. “If we could find the right person to head up a drama program, I think we can bring it back and make it successful.”

Friesen said interested parties should contact him at the school. Reviving the program is important, and it’d be ideal to get it going sooner rather than later.

“We don’t want it sitting idle,” Friesen said. “We have a lot of costumes and equipment. As soon as that starts to get disbanded, it’s a major undertaking to bring it back. The time is now.”

Friesen said Fergus has an ideal set-up for such a program, especially with the Fergus Center for the Performing Arts. It’s all in place, he said, so bringing the program back wouldn’t be a huge burden on the budget.

And, most importantly, there are students out there like Wiegert and Coolidge who could really benefit from having this program available.

“Something like speech or drama is different than athletics,” Friesen said. “There is a certain personality that gravitates more to speech and drama than basketball or tennis. Adding something like drama in the mix can open doors for some students to get involved in a different way.”

 

 

 

 

 

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