High school theatre director Ron Parker sets high standards in his productions. Period costumes must conform to the time period. Period.
Lighting. Sound. Set design. Blocking. Elocution. Make-up. Hair.
He envisions each element, solicits input from his cast and crew, and then oversees the installation of each nail, the stroke of each paint brush.
These details meld so magically that, as was the case this weekend at the Wisconsin State Theatre Festival, the fictional theatre inspires genuine drama when people race to secure a coveted spot in the audience.
I heard shouts of, “make a hole!” and witnessed near fisticuffs as feisty fans elbowed their way to seats and theatre directors from competing schools instructed their own students to do whatever they could to find a spot in the theatre.
The theatre filled swiftly and house managers firmly turned away a large crowd of people, many of whom had waited 45 minutes or more. The performance proved worthy of the pre-show drama as North’s rendition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland garnered a 17th straight Critic’s Choice award, the highest honor, along with awards in directing, technical crew, and ensemble acting.
Those awards speak to the quality of a Ron Parker production. As a lucky chaperone on this three-day event, I can speak to the quality of the students whose character development transcends the stage.
I saw prop manager Drake Schneider smile warmly as a student from a competing high school accidentally knocked the official list of awards off its easel.
“Oh My God!” she said. “I can’t believe I did that.”
“Don’t worry,” he said as he bent his tall frame down to pick it up and replace it. “It could happen to anyone.”
The students broke curfew on the opposite end of the day, rising extra early to slip out and have a snowball fight, or to grab a quick swim in the hotel pool.
A perfectionist in his own productions, Mr. Parker works equally hard to instill in his students an appreciation for the talents of other area high schools.
I saw him approach Middleton High School cast members of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, an excellent showcase performance. He complimented them specifically and their faces lit up.
Conversation among North students throughout the weekend centered on the great shows they saw other schools perform. They expressed outrage at the scarcity of awards for Middleton High School and its production of the Last Illusion, rather than glee at their own impressive haul.
Appleton North’s layered production of Alice in Wonderland was a lovely, lovely show, well-deserving of its lingering standing ovation and awards.
In the rabbit hole of high school, with all the crazy characters and tender egos dwelling there, it’s even more important to recognize what Appleton North High School, the Wisconsin State Theatre Festival, and, most of all, Director Ron Parker accomplish off stage — an appreciation and celebration of the unique talents that exist outside the walls of one’s own school.