GREENFIELD — Ted Jacobs sits in the second row of seats in the auditorium, making notes on the MacBook Air open in front of him — kids to the left, kids to the right, kids on stage and up on the catwalk, as well as the tech booth at the back of the room.
The Greenfield-Central High School drama department is in rehearsal for the annual student-directed one-act plays, and everyone is busy.
Jacobs, 45, is in his 14th year of doing double duty as both an English teacher and the drama director at the high school.
He remembers distinctly his first day at Greenfield-Central — the day after 9/11. He walked in to direct a show chosen by his predecessor and to a scene shop that had a chop saw and a hammer with no handle.
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“The seven or eight kids left in the program were the actors, the set crew, the techies — everything for that production,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs had a vision for Greenfield drama, and he committed himself to building a student-run program that offered a broad variety of theater experiences for students. Jacobs considered his first year at Greenfield-Central High School his audition in front of the administration, the parents and the kids. He had to deliver on what he said he would do.
“I guess I got the part,” Jacobs said, “because I’m still here.”
Following that initial production, Jacobs set about to rebuild the department with a production of “Grease,” whose catchy music and well-known plot attracted more students to the program.
“It was a fun show, full of Americana and bells and whistles; plus, we got to have a car on stage,” Jacobs said.
The show made an impact — not only on audiences but also on the students who became involved in a program with a future.
Nate Luke, now 30, played the part of Kenickie and the teen angel, and reveres his days as a drama student at Greenfield-Central.
“It was incredibly important to me,” Luke said. “It was my outlet. Some kids are born to throw a football, and some are born to perform, and that was me. It’s still a big part of who I am.”
Luke is still in touch with Jacobs from time to time and was even persuaded to reprise his role as the teen angel in the 2011 production of “Grease.”
Most high school drama departments stick to a set theater schedule of one play and one musical per school year. Under Jacobs, Greenfield-Central drama students tackle six annual productions, plus maintaining an active ComedySportz improv team.
This year, Greenfield-Central drama’s theater season includes one-act plays, a student-directed play for the International Thespian Society Regional, a mid-winter production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” a senior production of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” and the season finale musical, “The Addams Family.”
Jacobs cites show selection as a more unique aspect of the program than the quantity of productions.
For example, the script for the annual mid-winter performance usually derives from a literary work or carries a message of social significance. Past productions include “Death of a Salesman,” “The Miracle Worker” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Jacobs recognizes not everyone who joins the drama club has a desire for stardom, and he has built his program around providing diverse theater opportunities for students.
His behind-the-scenes crew — those running the lights and sound, building the sets and working on costumes — makes up a larger group than the actors on the stage.
“Kids are joiners,” Jacobs said. “They don’t want to perform, but they still want to contribute.”
The division of labor falls into different areas of behind-the-scenes support. There are crews for hair, makeup, costumes, lights, sound and stage. Student crew leaders are responsible for overseeing each of these areas, and the success or failure of each sits squarely on the shoulders of the students.
Jacobs enjoys watching them go through their process.
“Theater teaches them so much. It’s the perfect marriage of two concepts: collaborative learning and individual responsibility,” Jacobs said.
Amanda Greene, 24, teaches technical theater at Herron High School in Indianapolis. The Greenfield- Central alumna auditioned for shows back in high school but eventually found her niche working backstage, painting scenery and searching for props to support the on-stage experience.
She went on to major in theater education at Ball State University.
“I just want to share with my students the work and joy that goes into opening night,” Greene said.
Jacobs said he believes a student-run program breeds leaders, and there is no shortage of his former students who agree with that.
Michael Tucker, 23, was once captain of the ComedySportz team. He is now a paralegal, but his side business is a direct result of his experiences with Greenfield-Central’s drama program.
Tucker is the director and instructor at the Indy Lightsaber Academy, which specializes in stage combat and sword-fighting techniques (with the help of a fan favorite weapon).
As a student, Tucker was given many leadership roles, including the task of choreographing sword-fighting scenes for the school’s production of “Peter Pan.” He enjoyed it so much that he followed up that experience with as much stage fighting training as he could get.
Theater made all the difference in Tucker’s high school experience.
“It was the reason I got good grades. My friends were there. My family was there. It was my heart and soul,” he said.
Theater, unlike high school athletics, can be a lifelong pursuit, Jacobs said.
“At the end of the day, you can never be too old, too frail, too injured to participate in theater,” he said. “When your body won’t let you throw a football or hit a softball, you can still be a performer.”
This is part of an occasional series about creative people with Hancock County connections.
“At the end of the day, you can never be too old … to participate in theater. When your body won’t let you throw a football or hit a softball, you can still be a performer,”
Greenfield-Central drama director Ted Jacobs