Over the last two decades, the Grantsville High School Theater Production program has run from robbers, fought pirates, flirted with Lady Luck and showed the West how sharpshooting is done.
This year, the program will celebrate its 20th birthday by taking on the “Phantom of the Opera” as a gesture of thanks and proof of success to the community, said director Matt Price.
“We’ve done a few big shows in the past — ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was a big show, ‘Les Miserables’ was a big show — but we wanted this to be a big show again but even a little bigger to celebrate the 20 years of the program,” he said. “It’s kind of a gift to the community — thanks for supporting us and this is what you’ve supported over the last 20 years and this is how the program’s grown.”
Before the establishment of the program, Price said, theatrical experience was available to students generally only on occasions when volunteers would come to the school. There were no plays and no musical theatrical productions — until the program started in 1993.
Although Price never participated as a student himself, he has been heavily involved with the program since its inception. Price had graduated the spring before the program began, but was asked by then-choir director Dan Butcher to come back and direct a musical, “Kiss Me, Kate.” The show was a success, and was followed later in the year with “Shenandoah.”
Price volunteered for four years, most of the time simultaneously taking college classes with the goal of becoming a music and theater teacher, before being hired as an orchestra teacher in 1997. He continued to volunteer to direct plays and musicals while teaching orchestra. Junior high and high school theater classes were added to his list of duties the following year. Price was officially hired as the theater production teacher after completing his degree.
Price said although his plans included something at least similar to what he is doing now, he feels his involvement with the theater production program has heavily shaped his life.
“It just sort of happened out of nowhere. Dan just asked if I’d come back and direct a play, and then it kind of snowballed from there,” he said. “It’s absolutely led me to where I am now. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. I’m one of the lucky ones for sure — I get to do what I love for a living and work and hobby are the same thing. I love the program and I love the students and I love my work.”
Although the students in the program have been excited for this celebratory production, there are some inherent challenges to doing a bigger musical like “Phantom of the Opera,” said Price. The music, which is being performed live by an orchestra comprised of high school students, is more difficult and demanding.
“The scenery’s pretty big and elaborate, and especially things like you have to find the right vocalists, the right actors, the right dancers for a lot of it,” he said. “You have to find the right people for all these things, and it takes extra coaching, and it takes them extra time to expand their abilities.”
Being a public school, Price said, the program’s budget is limited. Most of the funding comes from ticket sales from the last production and donations from local businesses. Bigger productions, like “Phantom of the Opera,” cost about $2,000 to secure legal rights to perform, he said. Productions can cost that amount a time or two again in scenery, props and costumes.
“The kids decided they wanted another creative finger in the pie and do their own costuming, so we gave them some guidelines,” Price said, noting that those contributions helped reduce costs. “It’s been very tight. It’s always very tight — I mean, we’re a school. It’s a public school, and we rely a lot on local businesses, and on ticket sales. If we didn’t have ticket sales from past productions and those donations, we wouldn’t have more productions.”
He noted, however, that such challenges are eased by the talent of participating students — something he’s found to be common throughout his time at the helm of the program.
“I’ve always said that for a community our size, we have way more than our share of talent, and I believe that goes back to getting kids involved early, said Price.
In the 20 years since, hundreds of students have been involved and thousands of parents and community members have been audience to their efforts. Price said without the support of the community and parents, as well as the student participation, the program could not have lasted so long. To recognize that, he said, the department is throwing a gala before Saturday’s performance.
“We want to invite everybody out, the whole community,” Price said.
The gala will start at 4 p.m. and go until 7 p.m., when the Saturday night performance of “Phantom of the Opera” will start. The open event is free, though Price noted the program will not turn down donations.
“The Phantom of the Opera” will open April 25 and run April 26, April 27, April 29 and April 30. All performances will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults, $6 for students and $5 for senior citizens and children age 11 and under.