The theater department has impacted students in immeasurable ways


When senior Gretchen Shull was asked how the theater department has influenced her life, she was merely left speechless. With a silent moment to articulate her thoughts, attempting to find the right words that would bring justice to how she felt, it dawned upon her just how life-changing her time in the theater has been.

“I don’t even know where I’d be if I didn’t do theater,” Gretchen said. “Theater has had such an impact on my life. I can’t even imagine a life without it.”

The beginning of her life-changing experiences with the school’s theater department dates back to a simple decision to join a class: Theater 1. Although her love for music and theatrical-like performances has roots in her early-childhood years, joining Theater 1 during her sophomore year allowed Gretchen to be fully exposed to the world of performance.

“I was a little scared [when I first took Theater 1],” said Gretchen, who has now taken both Theater 1 and Theater 2 two times each. “I didn’t really know what it was going to be, but I quickly made friends in that class. You get to do some monologues right off the bat, and it was really fun to work on stuff.”

Gretchen claims she has taken the class multiple times because of theater teacher and director Robbin DeMeester’s bright personality and the flexible courses she offers. The content of the class changes with each surpassing year, and as students take the classes more than once, which is often the case, DeMeester individually fortifies their work.

Theater 1 is an introduction to theater, as it focuses on work with history, monologues, memorization, etc, and Theater 2 becomes more “nitty-gritty,” according to DeMeester, because it goes more in-depth. However, DeMeester says she has a similar outlook for how she hopes both classes will affect her students, no matter how engrossed they are in the world of theater.

“My main goal for kids that take the class is to spark interest in maybe going to see more live theater than they’ve done growing up,” DeMeester said. “Or maybe it gives them confidence in another class to ask a question or speak up in a group project. [I hope] they can take the class and fall in love with themselves a little more as a communicator and also learn to appreciate theater as an art and how hard it really is.”

DeMeester says she likes to hope that she impacts students in these ways, and for Gretchen, her hope became a reality.

“I’m definitely a lot less nervous [because I’ve taken theater],” Gretchen said, “and I don’t procrastinate as much as I used to. I used to procrastinate memorizing things, but I learned that it’s just better to get it out of the way and memorize it. I also noticed that my presence on stage is a little better just because you get to work on your projection and work on staging and things like that.”

Senior Jayden Bonsall, who has taken Theater 1 and is currently taking Theater 2, has also felt positive effects from taking theater as a class. She enjoys how genuinely passionate DeMeester is about her teaching, and she says that the classes have been an overall inviting and lively experience.

“[Theater] totally took me out of my normal comfort zone,” Jayden said. “[DeMeester] values class inclusion in things like feedback after an individual performance and pushes you to do better because she always sees the best potential in everyone. I really like DeMeester’s teaching style, period.”

As the years progressed, Gretchen’s involvement in the theater department stretched beyond the classroom. At first, she simply joined the crew for plays and musicals, helping with the behind-the-scenes aspects. But eventually, with a little more confidence, she joined the improv team and has acted as varying roles in the school’s plays and musicals, including playing a lead role in the fall play, Ramona and Beezus.

After her involvement in many different aspects of theater performances, Gretchen has felt like she’s found a place of belonging.

“I think that I’ve found my element,” Gretchen said. “I think that when I’m doing improv or I’m doing comedy, that’s when I’m most my authentic self. I feel the greatest when I’m doing that, so I feel like that’s an area of the world that I can fit in.”

Senior Ashlyn Fitch, who has been involved with the school’s musicals since her freshman year, has felt a similar sense of belonging that has accumulated over the years.

“For me, coming in freshman year, I was super nervous about everything with high school because I felt like I didn’t really have a place,” Ashlyn said. “I was nervous [about] how I was going to fit in and participate with my school, and [joining theater] has been the most life-changing thing for me.”

Ashlyn thoroughly enjoys the positive atmosphere that is formed from everyone in the theater department. Because of the support received from DeMeester, the joy of performing, working alongside a varied array of people, and many other reasons, Ashlyn has simply fallen in love with theater.

“[FHC Theatre] has completely changed my high school experience,” Ashlyn said, “because everyone in FHC theatre, whether it’s just the theater classes or it’s the plays or the musicals or the improv team, is literally one big family. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, even if you never thought theater was going to be your thing because everyone who does it falls in love with it.”

Gretchen is in agreement with how impactful joining theater has been. From starting with a simple class, Gretchen has found genuine happiness. She plans on continuing her path with theater after high school with comedy writing, and according to her, there is no other facet of life she could see herself following.

Simply put, Gretchen’s decision to join theater has been monumentally life-changing.

“[FHC Theatre] is awesome,” Gretchen said. “One of the best decisions of my life—maybe the best decision of my life—was joining FHC Theatre. I’ve met the greatest people ever. I’ve done some of the greatest things. It’s just all around a fantastic program.”