When Mundelein Theatre members perform “Metamorphosis” the last weekend in October, it will mark the 100th show produced during the tenure of Theatre Director Jonathan Meier.
It’s a landmark worth noting because of the department’s growth during Meier’s 18 years of leadership. Things look quite different from when he started at the Theatre Department.
Back in 2004, Meier was the sole director and, with two staff members, he led about 50 students participating in just three performances. Now he has a staff of six, specializing in lighting, set design, and more. They include Sara Gunther, David Mork, Mark Landuyt, Jeff Harding, John Stowers, and Hayley Johnson. Not all are on the MHS faculty and most have multiple titles and a variety of responsibilities.
One area of growth is the addition of the New Faces Production, which features freshman and sophomore performers and is led by Director Jeff Harding, an MHS math teacher. Every student gets an opportunity to perform - no one is cut.
“Every student who wants to perform has a chance to be on stage. Not all high schools offer this, so it’s a pretty unique program,” Harding said.
With nearly three dozen underclassmen signing up for New Faces each of the last two years, Harding had to double cast the show to assure performance opportunities for all.
In total, the Theatre staff works with more than 90 students producing seven shows throughout the year. Instead of taking credit for the changes, Meier is simply grateful.
“This isn’t really about me. It’s about the growth of this department over time. It’s really about the support this school, this community, and this administration has given - and continues to give - our theatre department,” he said.
For instance, most of the students who sign up for theatre are also involved in show choir and band. The Performing Arts Department (theatre, band, and choir) works together to make sure there isn’t too much overlap in practice and performance times, allowing students to stay involved in multiple activities.
The community consistently comes out to fill the MHS Auditorium for the shows and parents support their kids’ participation in this time-consuming activity.
On the walls of the rehearsal room are 18 years of posters promoting each show, in order, since 2004. There are 100 posters in all - not including a couple of posters for shows coming later this year. The first on the wall is from “The Laramie Project.”
There are no favorites for Meier. In fact, it’s hard for him to judge what shows are better than others because putting on great shows is not the point.
“Of course, we want to produce quality theatre, but our real priority is to give each student a quality experience as they develop their individual artistic sensibility,” he said.
Meier’s passion for the theatre, the high school, and his students is evident to anyone who spends more than a few minutes with him. A former professional actor and banking sales manager, with a lifelong love for theatre, Meier began substitute teaching at Mundelein High School in 2003 when he soured on his business career.
So instead of mentoring sales associates, he leads student performance in everything from traditional plays and musicals to student-directed shows, to the Shakespeare Slam team. Meier doesn’t have a favorite type of show. He loves all aspects of theatre.
“I don’t have to have just one passion,” he said. “I get to satiate all of my different passions throughout the year.”
At the high school level, the theatre staff puts a premium on training theatre artists, not just actors and actresses. So students have opportunities to be assistant directors, stage managers, technical crew leaders, and more. Most students have opportunities to try a variety of roles within the company.
The promotional poster for Mundelein Theatre reads: “Onstage or backstage, Mundelein Theatre has a place for you.” Or as Meier would say, “If they’re acting in one show, they may have a hammer or a paintbrush in their hand for the next.”
Approximately 1,000 students have gone through the program over the years and Meier is proud to see many of them keeping theatre a part of their lives even after high school. Whether they go on to act or direct on their own is not important.
“The skills that they acquire working in theatre will serve them well throughout their entire lives,” Meier said. “I always hope that theatre and the arts stay a part of that life.”
Mundelein Theatre will perform “Metamorphoses'' on Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 27-29 with shows at 7:30 p.m. and a 3:45 p.m. matinee on Friday. For tickets, visit www.mundeleintheatre.org.