Program has grown immensely over the past decade

PASO ROBLES — While some school districts drastically cut or stopped funding their high school drama programs over the past decade, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District did the opposite.

Marcy Goodnow, Director of Theater Arts at Paso Robles High School, Paso High Theatre Company, took over the established program at PRHS a decade ago and has seen it grow and grow over that time.

“When I came here, I was teaching one combo class and then I was teaching English the rest of the day,” Goodnow said. “And now year 10, this is the coolest thing, I have Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced drama, Student Director Practicum, Intro to Technical Theater, Advanced Technical Theater, and Stage Management Practicum.

“I’m only doing theater now,” she said through a huge smile while sitting in the fairly new Paso Robles High School Performing Arts Center. In the last 10 years, Measure T bond money paved the way for converting the activity center into the 400-500 seat performing arts center.

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“I am super thankful, we’ve had a lot of change-over everybody knows that, but through that change-over people just started saying ‘yes,’” Goodnow said. “That stuff makes me want to cry.”

Intermediate Drama was the first yes, Goodnow recalls. The children’s show came from this class and is now a popular annual tradition for the Paso High Theatre Co. This year, the class is performing 12 shows of “Willy Wonka Kids.”

“We invite our local schools to come as a field trip,” Goodnow said. “We end up performing to over 2,000 kids. The kids are new actors in that class. It’s a ton of stage time. It’s great for them, it’s great for the kids who get to come and see it.”

Over a school year, the Paso High Theatre Co. does three huge theater productions a year, two showcases a year, plus a talent show, a movie night, and movie musical night.

“We also do a phony Tony awards at the end of the year that is my favorite,” Goodnow said.

While the department has grown, it’s also reached a point where to continue forward, Goodnow is now asking for help from the community. Their goal is to raise $7,000, which will help pay for storage containers, performance rights, and financial compensation for guest artists that come in and support the department.

“It’s hard to ask for help, especially because we haven’t really ever asked for help,” Goodnow said. “I’m not going to say no to kids because of money, I am going to say I will find the money, you will help me, you will perform, we will sell popcorn, we will do whatever it takes.”

Goodnow said reaching out to the community was not because of the well-documented financial troubles the district is going through.

“It isn’t about them (the district) being deficient,” Goodnow said. “It is about us growing. It is a positive thing. No matter who asked for money right now nobody is getting extra, but that doesn’t follow my timeline for growth.”

In addition to “Willy Wonka Kids,” Paso High Theatre Co. will be doing “Puffs” and “Mama Mia.” “Puffs” is based on a certain wizarding school and “Mama Mia” is a popular musical. Performance rights to shows are in the thousands of dollars, Goodnow said, and producing the right show can lead to sold-out shows.

“When you do shows that are more popular it costs more money,” Goodnow said. “I want to do popular shows that our community wants to see.”

At the end of each production, Goodnow said all of the students come out and take a bow. In “Mama Mia,”100 students will be on the stage at the end.

“When people see the joy and how many kids I can fit on the stage and how many kids fit back there and then we all bow together, it is a very emotional experience,” Goodnow said.

The Paso High Theatre Co. has planned fundraisers and has merchandise for sale. Since going public, Goodnow said they have received some help and knows the community will come through.

“We are not the drama dorks here,” Goodnow said. “They are academic, AP kids who love this process, this magic that we get to create on the stage. My favorite moments are when it is going because I am not a micromanager, they do the show and I sit in the audience. And I cry because we have gotten to a point after hundreds of hours where these kids are doing the show on their own.”

For more information or donate, email megoodnow@pasoschools.org.