Lead actresses Betsy LeClair and Caitlyn Lyons of Yamhill-Carlton High School crowd into the narrow makeup-mirror area, along with Eli Spencer, who played the wizard.Mason Herbert/News-Register
Lead actresses Betsy LeClair and Caitlyn Lyons of Yamhill-Carlton High School crowd into the narrow makeup-mirror area, along with Eli Spencer, who played the wizard.
Mason Herbert/News-Register
Mason Herbert
Mason Herbert

Mason Herbert - The show must go on

The hot burn of lights framing the makeup mirror, the last-minute recitation of lines that must be committed to memory, and the pressure of a waiting audience — are all normal parts of high school theater.

Having to rely on makeup so old it’s virtually turned to dust, lacking replacement bulbs for the lighting system and being relegated to the woodshop next door for final prep are less common. But that’s what the Yamhill-Carlton High School Playmakers had to contend with when they staged this year’s school musical, “Once Upon a Mattress,” a comedy based on “The Princess and the Pea” fairy tale.

The theater program has no budget to meet even basic costs. It’s on its own these days.

But the frayed curtain still must open. Drama supporters will accept no less.

After several years caught in the throes of recession, high schools are no strangers to budget woes. In fact, students have learned to cringe at the word “budget,” whenever it’s raised in connection with school events.

Arts and music, of course, are typically among the first to go when funds come up short. So schools today are facing tighter and tighter funding straits for theater programs.

But like creative people in the larger community, school theater groups are determined. Somehow, they manage to find a way.

Many might argue how theater isn’t a necessary part of public education, that it doesn’t rank in importance with English and mathematics. But it manages to capture a place in the hearts of many high schoolers when other subjects can’t.

Even if students aren’t taking the stage themselves, they can still feel the unique energy. Theater allows one’s inner colors to shine. It can help students gain confidence and create friendships.

“Theater builds communication as well as friendship and bonds,” said Colten Hendricks, who’s worked with the Yamhill-Carlton Playmakers for six years. “It builds other skills as well. Because we have no experts with lights or soundboards, it builds technical skills, too.”

When you are reciting lines for a play, dancing an awkward dance on a crowded stage and trying not to sing off-key, you get a strange sense of comfort. Shedding your self-conscious outer shell, you seem to lose all sense of insecurity.

When you are rewarded with applause from a responsive audience, you feel a huge sense of accomplishment.

A group of raw amateurs who couldn’t seem to memorize all their steps suddenly realize their investment of time and effort has nonetheless created something precious and unique. It’s an inspiration.

Despite budget issues, the Playmakers have refused to stop playing.

On the opening night of “Once Upon A Mattress,” actress Caitlyn Lyons brought her own makeup from home. Cast members swept the floor in preparation. Lead actress Betsy LeClair’s dress strap snapped in the middle of a performance, but she kept right on singing and dancing, fulfilling her role.

On or offstage, lack of funding was the last thing on any of the Playmakers’ minds. Their focus was on delivering the best performance possible.

In that way, small school theater resembles real world theater. The performers put just as much heart into it, if not more.

Watching the group share laughter during pre-production prep time, as they get ready to act their hearts out on stage, you wouldn’t guess they were operating with virtually no outside support.

“Stipends for teaching are gone, and that can cause drama teachers to stop teaching,” said Brenda Longton, who’s been overseeing the drama program at Y-C for more than 10 years. “It’s a lot of work. One year, we did only one show, and we had to make it up, because we couldn’t afford the royalties for scripts. But it was still a lot of fun.”

High school plays are about far more than the fun of putting on a production. They’re about solidarity, collaboration, friendship, confidence and creativity.

Positive results like those drive people like Longton to step up, even when resources are lacking. “You do what you can, and you go from there,” she said.

Guest writer Mason Herbert, a senior at Yamhill-Carlton High School, is interning at the News-Register. Between school, homework and chores, he enjoys reading, playing video games and writing. Possible careers include editor or broadcast programmer.

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