Upcoming "Wizard of Oz" stirs twister of controversy

Parkland officials criticized for hiring professionals for high school show

Author: , WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published: Feb 28 2014 06:36:54 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 28 2014 07:24:05 PM EST
Parkland High School
SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. -

Parkland High School's spring musical production of "The Wizard of Oz" is stirring a Kansas twister of controversy.

Grassroots opposition is springing up to plans by the high school's theater staff to hire professionals to fill the positions of lighting designer, sound designer and sound board operator --positions petitioners argue usually are held by students.

They maintain students are being denied of an opportunity to learn.

But school district spokesman Nicole McGalla said it is common to bring in professionals to help with high school productions -- not just at Parkland but at other schools as well.

"It's a learning experience, so students can learn from the professionals,"  said McGalla.

An online petition opposing hiring professionals has been started by Kristy McKeever, a 2009 Parkland High graduate who was part of the stage crew.

"When I was there, we did everything ourselves," said McKeever. "We built the set, we designed the lights, we designed the sound and we were more than capable of doing those things.

"We want to make sure future generations of these stage crew kids have the same opportunities we had. You have to learn this sort of skill set by doing."

McKeever said she started the petition Wednesday night.

"Within 24 hours we had over 500 supporters signed up, which was pretty amazing," she said.

By late Friday afternoon, she had more than 700 online signatures. "I'm going to leave it up until I hear something has changed."

McKeever hopes the school board will intercede.

She has no objection to professionals being brought in as advisers, "but I want to make sure the creative decisions are left to the students."

In a joint statement released Friday, district officials said: "Our students will work alongside industry professionals and gain valuable knowledge, which will only enhance their theater capabilities for future performances.

"Contrary to what is being reported in social media, students have numerous opportunities to create, participate and learn in this year's production."

That statement was from Richard Sniscak, the district's superintendent; Jim Moniz, Parkland High's principal; Mark Stutz, the district's visual and performing arts director, and Frank Anonia, the choral director.

The statement from the four men stresses in past years the high school's theater department occasionally has hired industry professionals "to offer guidance, leadership and training for our students so they may learn to master ambitious technology and production methods."

McGalla said the decision to bring in professionals for "The Wizard of Oz" is based on needs to ensure the show's success, as determined by the technical director and show director, rather than just to enhance the quality of the production.

For safety reasons, McKeever said she has no issue with hiring a flyng stunt coordinator. But she said the other two professionals Parkland intends to hire -- technical director for lighting and sound consultant -- will be doing jobs that should be done by students.

"No contracts have been signed yet," said McGalla. 'We are not hiring any more professionals than we have ever done before.  No student is being replaced by a professional."

Does having professionals work on productions give some high schools an edge in winning Freddy Awards in the annual ceremony at the State Theatre in Easton?

"This has nothing to do with the Freddys," said McGalla.

Shelley Brown, State Theatre's president and CEO, could not predict whether using professionals in those areas would impact the ability of a school's production to win awards for stage crew and lighting. She said it would have to be determined how those professional were used, such as whether the students were working with them or for them.

Brown said high school orchestras have used professional members, but they must have a certain percentage of students to qualify for a Freddy nomination.

Five performances of "The Wizard of Oz" are scheduled at Parkland High between April 9 and April 13. 

Said the school officials in their statement: "We look forward to a week of wonderfully entertaining shows for all of our guests."

Tickets for the show are $10, $8 for students, seniors and children.

McGalla said the cost of all Parkland High musicals, including hiring professionals, is fully funded by ticket sales, not school district tax dollars.