Gig Harbor High School students searching for an avenue to learn useful and productive life skills are in luck.
Drama director and English teacher Kristin Zetterstrom’s Theater Tech, a Career and Technical Education and/or Fine Arts Class, teaches a wide range of students.
“My students are a special group of unique personalities and skillsets,” Zetterstrom said. “Some kids come from troubled homes and several are in special education. Some find a sense of purpose, significance and accountability they are lacking in their home life. Kids who struggle with interpersonal skills work successfully in groups, develop leadership and problem solving skills.”
The Theater Tech class gives the students an important sense of purpose and belonging.
“It is often the only class that keeps these kids connected to our school and to other kids,” Zetterstrom said.
Another huge bonus is the class benefits the entire school and the community at large.
Theater Tech and design students build sets for school plays and musicals and manage all the behind the scenes work during performances.
“It does connect kids who wouldn’t normally work with each other to interact and gets them involved in the program,” she said. “A lot of the kids who take the class will also run the show, do the lights, sound and management. Theater is a lot more complicated than just acting.”
One of those students is high school junior Bri Roppolo, who has taken the class for the last two years.
“I’ve always been interested in construction work and done projects with my father,” she said.
When Roppolo realized the class would be building construction sets and working behind the scenes, she was immediately on board.
Due to some previous experience, Roppolo became a leader of the group.
“We would fall into little groups that had specific tasks and do projects that would eventually lead to building the main set,” she said.
The fact that the students’ work is seen by hundreds of people adds to their feeling of accomplishment and importance.
“I would go to the performances and hear people say, ‘Oh that is so cool,’ and think I was part of that group that built it. That made me feel good,” Roppolo said.
Theater Tech classes draw students with a wide range of abilities and challenges.
“We have kids with reading difficulty, math comprehension and interpersonal skills. This class is a great place for them to develop life skills and take on leadership,” said Zetterstrom.
Students start out with the basics, such as learning to use a tape measure and manage a drill. Teamwork, problem solving and safety are also important components of the class.
When the sets are completed and the performance opens for the public, Zetterstrom sits in the audience, fingers crossed and her breath held, and watches the show while her students manage the behind the scenes work that is critical to any production.
“To see these kids doing things what professionals are doing is very rewarding,” she said.
In order to complete all these tasks on time and in a professional manner, the students need the proper tools.
Currently, 20 students are sharing 13 cordless drills purchased with grant money the school received.
With only 45 to 55 minutes in class and a goal of 1 to 1 ratio of drills to students, there is a lot of wasted time and handing off of drills so everyone gets a chance to participate.
The Theater Tech class could use some help in the way of donations to purchase more equipment for the current production of “Murder Inn,” opening Nov. 9 and running through Nov. 18 and for future productions.
“These tools will stay here and be used over and over,” Zetterstrom said. “Ultimately a drill will be handled by dozens and dozens of children.”
The finished product is one that everyone in the community can enjoy.
Anyone willing to donate to this worthy cause can go to DonorsChoice.org and type “Zetterstrom.”
Community members who attend the performances are the beneficiaries of the students’ hard work and cooperation.
“The magic of theater is having all these components happen without the audience being aware that they have taken place,” she said. “When the set shifts, you want it to feel like magic — you don’t want people to know what goes on behind the scenes.”
“It is really cool to see all these people appreciate something they worked on, and share that with their families and the community,” Zetterstrom added.
“These are students who often fall through the cracks, and the sense of purpose and belonging is critical. The students train and apply their skills. They are a fun bunch.”
The Gig Harbor High Theater Tech class is looking to raise money to purchase more cordless drills. To donate to the drive, visit donorschoice.org and search “zetterstrom.”