by Cris Ritchie — Editor
The drama program at Perry Central High School has been in full swing now for several years, with the school’s company, the Commodore Players, performing in multiple productions each year. And while middle school programs are flourishing in more urban areas like Louisville, that’s not really the case here in Eastern Kentucky.
Philip Neace, director of the drama program at Perry Central, is hoping that’s about to change.
Neace is helping organize a middle school drama festival for several Eastern Kentucky counties, and to his knowledge it will be the first of its kind in the region.
“It’s truly for theatrics, the idea of drama and play development, acting, rehearsing, set design and everything that’s involved in that,” Neace said.
This regional middle school festival is currently set for November, and Neace said there is an open invitation to any school in Perry and surrounding counties to participate. The winning production will move on to perform in the first ever state middle school drama festival next spring, where they will perform alongside schools from across Kentucky.
This emphasis on middle schools is an important first step in building drama programs in the lower grades, and in effect feeder programs for schools like Perry Central where drama is part of a fine arts curriculum. The Commodore Players compete at the regional level and the Kentucky Theatre Association’s state high school festival each year, and have become self-sustaining as money made from the local productions goes to fund their other activities.
Neace said he became involved in organizing the middle school region not only because of his profession as a drama teacher, but also because students who are involved in the fine arts like drama and choir are more likely to lead successful lives both during high school and after.
“We just want them to know that students who are involved in drama do exceptionally well and literally grow as young students,” he said, adding that some of his own former students have gone to work as attorneys, lecturers, or in other professions.
But in this region there aren’t many, if any, feeder programs for high schools like Perry Central. Once students get to PCC and become involved in the drama program, while they are extremely talented and dedicated to learned the craft, Neace said they might not have any experience in drama and may not have previously known the program exists.
And while Perry Central has had some success with regional festivals and actors being named to the All-State Cast, the school has yet to win the KTA state competition. If students were exposed to the fine arts earlier in life as they are in more urban areas, Neace said he is convinced this added experience will result in statewide recognition.
“The schools that are winning at the state level have feeder programs,” Neace said. “They have talented kids, but they’re not more talented than ours, I assure you.”
Neace said he hopes this effort will result in local middle schools forming their own drama programs, and there is even an incentive for the team that wins the Mountain Region Middle School Drama Festival. Neace said there will be a fee to enter the statewide competition in Taylorsville, and Perry Central’s drama company will pay that fee.
“We will pay for the middle school that wins,” he said. “The Commodore Players are putting that up as a first prize offering. If they (the winning school) can get the bus, they are going.”
Neace said in the long run this could be a benefit to students in Perry and surrounding counties who are willing to form their own middle school drama programs. He said any teacher interested or willing to develop such a program can contact him at Perry Central at 439-5888.
“This is a plea to our own schools with middle school classes sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, if any teacher wants to develop and sponsor a drama club, a drama team at their middle school, they will have a place,” he said. “Even if they don’t have the facilities at their own school to perform for an audience, they will have a place here at Perry Central during our middle school drama festival.”