None of Paula Dean’s students had been born when she taught her first theatre class at Providence High School in 1997.
Dean is marking her 19th -- and final -- year of directing the Providence High theatre arts program with a production of the musical “Annie.”
“I wanted to go out with a bang,” Dean said. “Annie is pure family entertainment with lots of energy and smiles.”
The cast and production team are mostly girls, and includes many freshmen and students who are performing in their first production.
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“I wanted to do a show that highlighted what we have here,” Dean said. “That presents its own challenges. But it is also very exciting.”
The show was cast in January and has been rehearsing at least two and a half hours every school day afternoon.
“It is really intense,” said Elise Carlsten, 18, a senior who is an ensemble member of the cast of 28 and is in in her first PHS musical. “I acted in middle school but it was nothing like this.”
Carlsten said she was happy to hear they’d be doing a familiar show, a sentiment echoed by much of the cast and production team.
“It’s just such a classic,” said Kristen Johnson, who runs the school’s choral department and is overseeing the music. “Everyone is really familiar with the story line.”
That was part of the show’s appeal and why Dean selected it.
“I fully anticipate that the audience will be singing along,” Dean said.
Dean grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, and was active in theatre throughout high school and college, acting in school productions and in summer stock. She earned a theatre and speech degree from Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman University) in 1977 and taught in Arizona and Virginia before moving to Charlotte in 1994.
Dean taught drama at Olympic High School for three years prior to taking over the theatre arts program at Providence. She has been there ever since, adding film and TV production classes to the program along the way.
She has taken her students to Los Angeles, China and New Orleans and 35 graduates of her program are now working in the film industry.
“I am very proud of them,” she said.
Dean said she wants her current cast to share in that pride.
“I tell them that the show is the goal,” Dean said. “You do whatever you can to make the show successful and you take pride in your performance... My job is to make them look good. If they are not looking good, I will let them know and we will correct it.”
Mark Schachner, a junior who plays Rooster, said “Ms. Dean is a fantastic director and she really knows how to pull a show together and get the best out of everyone.”
Mark has been in the musical each of his three years at Providence.
“I owe her a lot,” he said. “The friendships I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had.”
Derby Belser, 17, a senior, credits Dean with cultivating her love of theatre and the fact that she will continue to pursue it in college.
“Ms. Dean has really taken me under her wing,” Belser said. “I have grown so much by working with her.”
Dean said she has mostly kept the nostalgia at bay, but she gets waves of it when she does something with her students or the cast and she realizes it’s the last time.
“It feels so strange to be at the end of my career,” she said.
What will she miss most? And what has she most relished about her time at Provicence? “The talent that has come through here, and my connection to the kids,” Dean said.
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
Providence High School’s production of Annie will run March 16-19, at 7 p.m., and a matinee at 3 p.m. on March 20. Tickets are $10 at the door.