MERCED — Collaboration is today's educational buzzword.
An upcoming musical production at Golden Valley High School embodies that heightened cooperation among a number of teachers and students.
Drama director Matt Thomas said the two-hour musical, "Bye Bye Birdie," is a bigger undertaking than most school plays involving most everyone on campus.
"This is the biggest project I've undertaken," Thomas said. "It's been awesome."
It will be staged May 23-26.
Principal Constantino Aguilar said the grand vision for the 1960 Broadway musical stems from the school's growing use of Common Core instructional standards. Students must use critical thinking skills and work together with their peers on classroom projects.
Aguilar said this is the first time Golden Valley has done something so extensive. Students will learn the relevance of their curriculum and put the knowledge into practice.
The play is a collaboration of drama, music, art, culinary arts and marketing students, Thomas said.
Teachers and classified employees have stepped up to offer their help in nontraditional ways. The play has a cast of 40 students and an additional 50 students working on costumes, lighting, set construction and painting.
Ezequiel Oliva, a senior, portrays lead character Conrad Birdie, an Elvis-like rock star figure who has just been drafted into the U.S. Army in the late 1950s.
"I think this will be really good," Oliva said. "This is great; I really like doing this."
Oliva plans to attend Merced College, then transfer to the University of California at Davis to major in theater. This is his fifth play.
This is the fourth time Thomas, a sophomore English teacher, has been involved in "Bye Bye Birdie" productions.
As an eighth-grader at Cruickshank Middle School, Thomas was a cast member in the play. He was in the cast at Playhouse Merced and as a senior at Merced High School in collaboration with Golden Valley.
For three years Thomas has taught sophomore English at Atwater High School and was assistant director of drama.
Art teacher Gloria Vargas and eight students in her beginning art class are in the early stages of constructing an 18-foot by 30-foot backdrop. The art students also are creating posters for the shows.
"This is the first big thing I've done here," Vargas said. "It's exciting, fun for me, too. The painting part is my favorite, but we're not at that stage yet. I'm anxious to get there."
Thomas opened auditions for the play to the entire student body. Some of the students weren't in drama classes. Auditions were held the last week of February and rehearsals started the first week of March.
Associate Principal Tiffani Gong is the play's choreographer. She has been a jazz, tap and ballet dancer since she was 3. She said she gets to know students in a different way, and Thomas acknowledged that students see another side of administrators.
"It's been great working with these students," Gong said. "It's a whole lot of fun, and it's a real diverse group. Not many have dance experience, and it has been fun to teach them basic dance steps."
Thomas said preparation for the play is a lot less formal than traditional classes. The requisite teamwork adds relevance to Common Core instruction, stressing critical and creative thinking along with problem-solving.
Nancy Hoppe is the play's musical director. She is a sophomore English teacher at Merced High School. About 25 years ago, she was a high school music teacher in Southern California, she said, and her roots are in theater arts.
Hoppe said at least half of the lines in the play are sung rather than spoken. She said her rewards are seeing students learn the music for the first time and enjoy what they are doing.
"It's been fun; I can't wait," Hoppe said. "Teaching them how to sing and how to read music has been a big challenge. The students have been eager and teachable."
Working with the other directors has been fun, she said. The play employs Broadway-style music as opposed to a more formal style.
"We are a good team, flexible and creative," Hoppe said.
Kristen McNamara, 16, is a junior at Golden Valley, a varsity cheerleader and part of the "Bye Bye Birdie" cast, playing Kim McAfee, an all-American girl who is picked by Conrad Birdie's stage manager to be kissed by the famed entertainer on his final night before being drafted into the Army.
This is her first play at Golden Valley, and she's glad to be part of the production. Having a leading role, Kristen says, she has lots of lines and songs to learn.
Golden Valley and Buhach Colony high schools have sophisticated equipment not found in other theaters, Thomas said. When students leave Golden Valley drama programs, they know how to use professional-grade equipment.
A 19-piece orchestra with junior and senior music students will accompany the production. Culinary arts students taught by Marty Goodwin will prepare a dinner for one of the play's showings.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.