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TC drama alumni invited to celebrate auditorium's 25th anniversary

Cast members of the production of “And Then There Were None” pause after hearingthe voice of an unseen man who accuses them of a hidden secretduring rehearsalson Monday. Triton Central is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the school’s auditorium during next week’s shows.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

It was 25 years ago that Triton Central High School teacher and drama director Jeff Wilson was told that the new auditorium would be ready in time for the start of the 1993-94 school year.

Despite one sleepless week of working into the wee hours of the morning for three straight nights in order to make sure that the drama department’s Fall production would go on without a hitch, Wilson can now laugh at the fact that that promise was not kept.

Now he’s not only willing but eager to celebrate the anniversary of the auditorium, which seats 638, during next week’s production of “And Then There Were None.”

All Triton Central drama alumni are invited to attend next week’s performances in celebration of the milestone. There will also be refreshments available for those alumni during the first intermission.

The show, which starts at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 and Nov. 16, is free for those alumni.

Wilson is also inviting any Triton Central alumni who performed on stage, such as former band or choir members to attend the shows. Anyone who has performed on the auditorium stage will be recognized before the show “just to let the community know how many people have been involved in the auditorium over 25 years,” he said.

“Anytime you have a major building project, there’s always contention with people because it’s going to raise (the) tax base or whatever,” he said. “I came in right after the decision had been made to build the auditorium. There was a lot of contention from the community at the time, ‘Why are we spending so much money on the fine arts program?’ Now here we are 25 years later and the fine arts are one of the strongest programs in our school system and it’s time to let the community know, here’s the legacy that’s been left.”

Wilson has been there from the beginning.

At the time a recently hired math teacher at the high school, Wilson was asked to take over the drama department when former English teacher Daniel Shepherd decided he wanted to spend more time with his family.

By that point, the decision had already been made by the school district to build the auditorium. Wilson was reassured when he took over the department that the auditorium would be ready in time for the start of the school year.

That promise was revised a few times, with the target date for construction being completed pushed back a month each time. It was finally finished on a Monday in November, giving Wilson and the cast and crew less than a week to get ready to transition from the cafeteria to the auditorium.

They had three days to re-block (or the actors’ movements) the performance of “1940’s Radio Hour,” a musical comedy, before the Friday debut. There was less space in the cafeteria than what the auditorium allowed.

That meant long nights for Wilson.

Rehearsals started after school at 3 p.m. and went about seven hours, he said. Afterwards, he and the people involved with lighting and sound stayed until 2 a.m. to figure out the new auditorium system.

“I was living basically on caffeine (and) zero sleep the whole week,” he said. “It was miserable. So I didn’t really enjoy the first experience in the auditorium. I was absolutely a zombie by show night. And I played piano in the show. I didn’t even rest during the show, I was up on stage.”

Since Triton Central doesn’t have contractual rights to perform “1940’s Radio Hour,” Wilson decided to do “And Then There Were None,” which was the second production on stage and at the time was known as “Ten Little Indians.”

“The first (production) was a quick migrant move down there and do it kind of thing,” he said. “This was really the first production that was full-scale in the auditorium.”

His wife, Tiffany, reached out to every drama graduate from when the auditorium opened until the 2000 class. Alumni who graduated after 2000 were contacted through social media and told to spread the word to their fellow alumni.

Wilson was unable to give an estimate on how many former students will attend next week’s shows, but he said he gets 3-4 emails each week that express “genuine interest in it.”

There have been 522 students involved in the drama department since the auditorium opened. “And Then There Were None,” which was originally an Agatha Christie mystery novel, will be the 56th performance by the drama department in the auditorium.

Wilson couldn’t give an overall estimate on how many students have performed on stage over the years because the band and choir departments have both had more than one director over the years, but he said the number “would be significantly more than us.”

“There’s been so many people that’s been on this stage, more than out in the athletic fields, when you put all three – band, choir, drama – programs together, you’re talking thousands upon thousands of kids,” he said.