by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Julius Caesar, center, played by Chris Kline, meets his maker at the hands of cast members. Heather King, far right, directs the famous assassination scene.The two Milwaukie High School productions could not be more different — the first is the modern-dress production of “Julius Caesar,” opening March 14, and the second is the re-mounting of the fall musical “The Secret Garden,” which will open the state thespian conference April 4.

by: PHOTO BY KATHERINE PENN - Maisie Sanchez, center, as Mary in 'The Secret Garden' is surrounded by, left to right, Kyle Grigg, Cipriana Mabaet, Jozeph Erickson, Ruby Willey, Savannah Ryan and McKayla Sheldrake.Scott Walker, the drama teacher at MHS and the director of both productions, is a busy man right now. He is thrilled that “The Secret Garden” was chosen as one of three productions that will be seen at the conference.

“It is the equivalent of an athletic team winning a state title,” Walker said. And what is especially sweet about being chosen, is that he did not set out to enter the musical for consideration at the state level.

After the run of “The Secret Garden” in November, Walker said his technical director told him he should enter the musical in the competition. It was too late to have a committee member see the play, so Walker entered a DVD of it, and on Feb. 2 was told the show had been selected.

“We knew we had an excellent show. These kids deserve an extra pat on the back,” he said.

Audiences have one more chance to see a dress rehearsal of “The Secret Garden” on the main stage at MHS at 7 p.m. April 2, but for now Walker is focused on getting “Julius Caesar” ready for its debut.

‘Julius Caesar’

Walker, who has studied Shakespeare in both London and Ashland, decided to set the play in the United States in modern times “because it is all about political ambition and the things that people will do to achieve that objective.”

After watching the furor surrounding the November election, Walker decided that “all the battles in Washington, D.C., are the same as the battles in ‘Julius Caesar.’ The action in the play is mirrored in modern politics.”

Walker and the cast are having a great time. “It is rewarding to me as an English teacher. We are looking at iambic pentameter and tracing the speech of Marc Antony. We are studying the structure of written language to determine motivation and intent” for all the characters.

Audience members should see “Julius Caesar,” even if they studied it in high school and hated it.

“They will see a strong, modern interpretation, and they will be intrigued with the political motivations. They should come and see it, especially if they have never seen a live Shakespeare play. Shakespeare was meant to be seen and not just read at a desk,” Walker said.

Fight choreography

Although Walker considers himself a “Shakespeare freak,” he has had no training in fight choreography, so he brought in Tyson Dailey and his assistant, Heather King, to work with the students.

Fresh out of college, both have had plenty of fight training at Central Washington University, and Dailey recently studied at David Boushey’s International Stunt School in Seattle, King said.

The pair likes working with high school students, she said, noting that “we always start with good basic training, including safety rules.”

There is no actual sword fighting in “Julius Caesar,” but there is the famous assassination scene and a crucial mob scene where an actor is attacked and chased off stage.

Dailey and King tell the students that a fight scene is a partnership and is almost like a dance.

“We start them off in slow motion, and they take to it pretty well. We have to choreograph it so that it’s exciting enough to keep them intrigued, but simple enough to be done safely in a short amount of time,” King said.

The Secret Garden

It will be a huge job to re-mount “The Secret Garden,” which will play on a much smaller stage in Salem, but then the entire endeavor was a challenge, Walker said.

Before he cast the musical, he told his students last fall that this would be the hardest show ever done at the high school, and “they were up for the challenge,” he said.

The cast is nearly 40 strong, and cast members all will travel to Salem for the thespian conference.

The story revolves around Mary, whose parents died of cholera in India. Mary is then sent to Yorkshire, England, to live with her Uncle Archibald. Archibald is a hunchback who fell in love with Mary’s mother’s sister, Lily, who then died shortly after giving birth to their only child, Colin.

Mary reminds Archibald of his late wife, and Colin also brings back painful memories, so he keeps Colin locked up in a bedroom.

Eventually Archibald goes away to Paris, to escape his memories.

Meanwhile Mary, who is indeed the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” of the nursery rhyme, is behaving like a spoiled brat, thinking the staff should wait on her hand and foot.

Ultimately, she learns humility from working with the staff, and she forces Colin to get out of bed and go into the garden. Colin gets some exercise and grows stronger, and the two young people nurture the garden, which also thrives.

“Mary writes Archibald a letter, asking him to please come home. He does and sees Colin is strong and healthy, so there is a happy ending,” Walker said.

Sophomore Maisie Sanchez plays Mary, and her real-life sister, Hannah, plays her stage sister, Lily, in the production.

Maisie said she is happy to be taking the musical to the state conference. “It has been exciting to be in a show with my sister, and a cool experience to know we made a state-worthy show. And the music is amazing,” she said.

Audiences will enjoy seeing the changes in Mary’s character as the show progresses, Maisie said.

“At first she is a bratty girl who expects everyone to wait on her, but throughout the play she realizes that you have to work for things. You see her go from a spoiled girl to someone who cares and is passionate about something,” she said.

Fast facts

Milwaukie High School Theatre Arts department presents “Julius Caesar”

When: 7 p.m. March 14, 15 and 16

Where: J.C. Lillie Auditorium at the high school, 11300 S.E. 23rd Ave.

Cost: Tickets are $8.

More: Call 503-353-5840, ext. 38415.

All are welcome at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at Milwaukie High’s J.C. Lillie Auditorium to see the final dress rehearsal of “The Secret Garden.” The musical then heads to Salem for the Oregon Thespians State Conference April 4-6.

Thespians from Clackamas and Rex Putnam high schools also qualified for the state tournament.

Students from CHS include: Megan Bradner, Tanner Cook, Keenan Dolan, Onalee Duhrkoop, Blake Dunbar, JD Erickson, Drew Franklin, Dillon King, Charles Kleever, Keenan Kok-Carlson, Aidan Nolan, Glen Peak, Jacob Smith, Jake Thiesen, Mathew Thomas, Nate Walker and Alex Whitehead.

Students from RPHS include: Emily Gassaway, Madeline Kitzmiller, Gavin Schneider and Josef Seeger.

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