New Southridge theater director hopes to crank it up a couple notches
James Fewer is under no illusion that he has some big shoes to fill as the new theater director at Southridge High School, acknowledging that anytime a well-liked drama department head leaves, it's tough.
But that's OK he says, because he's 'unbelievably excited' about the challenges that lie ahead.
'Every position I've been in, I've followed a very popular director,' said Fewer. 'You always have to come in and say it's a new ship. You have to be on board.'
Fewer replaces Wade Willis as Southridge High School's drama director after Willis resigned at the end of last year in part because of the handling of 'The Laramie Project,' a play that caused considerable controversy at the school.
But that's all ancient history as far as Fewer is concerned and he's looking toward a new year filled with potential. The 40-year-old Fewer has spent the last two years at Westview High School as technical director and scene designer.
Carolyn 'CJ' Reid, Westview's theater director, thinks Fewer will be a good fit at Southridge, saying it's an excellent opportunity for him.
'He's great with kids and he has a serious passion for theater,' said Reid. 'The kids at Westview absolutely adore him.'
Fewer said his plans are to take the Southridge program and move it up 'three notches.'
For Fewer, the acting bug bit him during his grade school production of 'Frosty the Snowman.'
'That's pretty much what started it for me,' said Fewer. 'I've been doing drama since I was in the third grade and I had a love for it even then.'
The theater, Fewer believes, should be more than simply students playing roles. It should be a place where young people learn about themselves and welcome a variety of groups.
'The theater is a place for everyone, whether you're a jock or a geek,' he said.
In addition, he wants students to experiment with a part of themselves that might take them out of their normal comfort zones.
As an example, a former student who had certain white supremacist views, caught a glimpse of himself in a character from the play 'The Foreigner.'
He didn't like it, Fewer remembers.
'He broke down into tears because he said 'this is me;' I see myself in this character and it's scary,' Fewer said.
However, by the time the show was over, the student underwent a transformation that made him grow.
'He turned out to be just this awesome kid,' said Fewer.
Having been heavily involved in theater departments for the last 18 years - this is his sixth teaching position - Fewer has been involved in all aspects of high school theater.
'The last two years, I was under the philosophy I have to step back to move forward,' he said.
The new position will give him a chance to grasp the reins again, he said.
Before Westview, Fewer spent six years heading up the theater department at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, where he worked closely with his wife, Kristy, who has an extensive theatrical background as well.
'My wife has helped me since Day 1,' he said.
Ready to hit the ground running, Fewer said his students will perform 'Seascape,' American playwright Edward Albee Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of two sea serpents who interact with two humans on Sept. 14 to 16 at 7:30 p.m.
'It's an experimental show, very rarely done,' said Fewer.
Performances will be in the Southridge Studio, a small theater formally known as the Black Box Theater. Fewer said he believes the name change is warranted because most black box theaters he's familiar with are much bigger than Southridge's.
Still, what Fewer likes about the space, which seats only between 75 to 100 people, is it will allow for more experimental productions.
Other performances slated for the year include William Inge's 'Picnic,' Molière's 'Doctor in Spite of Himself' and the hit Broadway musical 'Guys and Dolls.'
Fewer said one of his goals at Southridge is to incorporate a cultural literacy of sorts, hoping to attract a diverse group of students who haven't been involved in theater in the past.
'My ultimate goal is to see more students of color in the program,' he said. With that, he'd like to look at different playwrights.
In the past he hasn't shied away from making changes in the nationalities of the actors. In a previous district he cast the roles of Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown, the leads in 'Guys and Dolls,' with an African American and Hispanic student, respectively.
'We took a lot of heat on that,' he recalled of his decision.
But the performance was a success, he explained, because the best actors were selected without regard to their color.