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'Grease' Marks 20th Anniversary of Theater's Resurgence at LBHS

In 1992, Laguna Beach High students weren't interested in theater. Now, auditions bring out more than 100.

Story submitted by Tad Heitmann

Laguna Beach High School will celebrate two decades of sparkling theatrical productions with this fall’s revival of Grease, the first musical ever performed by the Park Avenue Players.

“That premiere musical production really started the ball rolling,” explained Mark Dressler, drama teacher and director. “It's hard to imagine now, as we kick off an ambitious 2012-2013 season with three popular musicals and two serious plays, that we had to create this award-winning program from scratch.” 

When Dressler began his career at LBUSD as a history/language arts teacher, he wondered why there wasn’t a thriving drama program at Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School. 

“What really got my attention was the Artists Theatre,” said Dressler, who remembers being perplexed that the school was blessed with such an extraordinary performance space but had not staged a major play or musical in several years. “Back in the early 1990s, it seemed that theater had ceased to be an important element of the school’s culture and identity.”

Taking A Chance

At the beginning of the 1992-93 school year, Dressler convinced district officials to let him teach two drama classes, one at LBHS and one at Thurston.  “Only 2 or 3 kids showed up for our first audition in the fall of 1992,” said Dressler. “LBHS kids just weren’t interested in doing theater. They didn’t know how much fun and empowering it could be. Even if they liked the idea of performing on stage, they were quite intimidated by the process.”

Then choral teacher Jean Turrell and longtime music teacher Jeff Foster had the idea of doing the popular title Grease.  “We still had to do some arm-twisting, begging and cajoling, but we managed to assemble a group of talented new drama students who worked hard to put on awesome show.” 

In fact, the show was a big hit in Laguna Beach, with lines at the box office stretching all the way down Park Avenue and around on Short Street.  “It turned out that our community was starved for good high school theater,” said Dressler, who has been producing and directing classic and contemporary plays and musicals at both Laguna Beach schools ever since.

“Little did we know, way back in 1992, that we were starting such a powerful artistic force in our community,” he said.  “The truth is the students in our program today owe a debt of gratitude to those brave students who, twenty years ago, had the courage to grace our stage in their groundbreaking and immensely popular production of Grease.  If it weren’t for them, we definitely would not be where we are today.” 

Casting Calls

In contrast to Dressler’s first audition in 1992, more than 100 students auditioned for this commemorative Fall production of Grease, which promises to extend the Park Avenue Players' regional reputation for  excellence in the performing arts.  Today’s cast will be offering complimentary tickets to any former LBHS students involved in that first show. 

“We would love to get in contact with those alumni to invite them to come meet today’s LBHS drama students and enjoy our new production of Grease, performed in their honor,” said Dressler.

*****

GREASE by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, at the LBHS Artists Theatre. Directed by Mark Dressler. Choreography by Lisa Jay and Danielle Pigneri. Musical direction by Roxanna Ward. Technical direction by Peter Roche.

Performances: Nov. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 4, 11, 18 at 2:30 p.m. Ticket prices: $10 students; $15 adults; $20 premium reserved.  Tickets available by visiting or calling the Artists Theatre Box Office, 625 Park Ave., Laguna Beach; 949-497-7769. Box office is open from 4 pm - 6 pm Monday through Thursday and two hours before showtimes Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

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