SBHS Theatre: Life-Changing Experience?

By Tyler Greenwald, in The Montecito Journal 

Every year, Santa Barbara High Schools drama program stages three “all-out” productions. These productions consistently play to full houses and earn nothing but positive media reviews making them a significant contribution to the enjoyment and pride of the entire Santa Barbara community.

The recent musical of Chicago was such a success, “phenomenal” was the word used most often by audiences and critics alike to describe this production.

Director Otto Layman, writing in the show’s program, expressed his pride that “the program here is seen as a core part of the school, and not as ancillary or ‘extra’ but a vital part of the Santa Barbara High School brand.”

Now that the curtains are closed, the lights are off, and the costumes are back in their boxes, however, these questions remain:

Does the program deliver more to the students than just the applause? Do the actors, directors, stage managers, and stage crews gain something more enduring, something deeper, that they will take with them after their gradua- tion? Do they feel that all the effort and time that goes into these productions pays off?

Sophomore Sable Layman, Otto’s daughter, who played the part of Roxy in Chicago, describes the drama pro- gram as “a life-changing experience. I don’t know what I would do without it, what I would do with my time. It has helped my speaking skills and boosted my self-esteem. My future will be all about bonding with other people. Chicago was exactly that, a great bonding experience. We were a family, sharing our skills and strengths for objectives we had in common. This experience will be with me forever.”

Sable is not alone in appreciating the “take away” from performing on stage, or behind the stage. Many of Chicago’s participants talk about the vital skills they learn that they will lean on in the future.

For example, stage manager Beau Lettieri, a sophomore says:

“I am learning how to work well with people in the real world, in a professional environment.” Beau views his role as “a communications bridge, bringing people together, generating mutual respect among every- one. I expect that I will be doing that throughout my life, learning to work with people and getting the best out of them.

“As show time approaches, I get here at 8 am and often stay until 8:30 pm. I also have schoolwork to do, which has taught me a lot about prioritizing. That will go with me as well. Can I envision going to a high school without a drama program? Definitely not. That would be devastating. Without this program, truly, I doubt I would be motivated to go to school. I cannot imagine SBHS without its drama program.”

Camille Umoff, a freshman, was the other female lead in Chicago, play- ing Velma. “Theatre is my life,” she explains. “It is who I am and always will be, whether I’m in the theatre or not. Before I started acting and sing- ing, I had zero confidence. Now I’m comfortable on stage and the SBHS drama program has definitely contributed to that comfort. It teaches you great social skills, which translate into almost everything. There are so many people out there you don’t know, but can know.”

Camille wishes the students who don’t go to see the shows would try it, just once. “They just don’t realize how good our theatre is; it’s not just a kiddie show. They are truly missing something really great.”

Grant Bower, a sophomore, played Billy, the lawyer in Chicago. “Every second I’m on that stage,” he says, “I’m graced with one of the most amazing rewards an actor could ask for. I want to keep on pushing and pursuing my way of life in this element. Theatre is what I eat, sleep, and breathe.”

These young actors live for the theatre, live for the respect they gain from it, and the opportunity to gain that respect. They also believe strongly that the skills they develop will be with them for a lifetime.

Otto Layman, with 18 years of SBHS shows behind him, agrees.

“Theatre teaches us all about the magic of imagination, shows us the truth and courage of actors and those who bring these shows to the stage. Theatre teaches us that there is some- thing greater than individual achievement, that shared imagination makes us better as people, and elevates the spirit of those who share it with us – our audience.”