MCHS Theatre Department Strives Under New Direction

Kyle Hurt, Staff Writer

The Theatre Department at Michigan City High School has seen tremendous growth under the guidance of Charles Puetzer who runs the auditorium. Not only has the quality of shows become better, but the program itself has grown into something that truly embodies what theatre is meant to teach.  The students themselves have taken what they have learned from Mr. Puetzer and have made the program their own. Puetzer noticed this initiative and took it one step further by producing “Catch Me If You Can”, Michigan City High School’s first ever student led production.

This student led production was directed, choreographed, and musically directed by seniors of MCHS. Theatre teaches students how to lead, take direction, work with others, problem solve, and speak in front of a crowd. Making sure that the students walked away with these important skills, Charles Puetzer has designed a program that lets students take the lead and explore their own creativity.

“I have gone to see other school’s performances in the surrounding area and have talked to their directors, and I was shocked to find out that adults did the majority of the work on each of their productions. When I was involved in high school theatre, I remember everything being up to us students. I have taken that philosophy as my own, and made sure that I gave students as much room as possible to work hands on, and learn from their own mistakes so that they not only grow as artists and performers but as young adults as well,” said Charles Puetzer.

If you ever walked into the MCHS Auditorium on a Saturday morning, you would see students hard at work building sets, hanging lights, and collecting props. This was the first step taken to make the program more hands on and student oriented. Also allowing students to take leadership positions during a production such as Stage Manager, Technical Director, and Assistant Director, further improved the programs initiatives. By getting the students more involved it created an environment that made them want to strive to become better at what they love to do, which gave Puetzer reassurance that handing over the reins of a full production would turn out to be a success.

“I had three senior that since I took over, were always there to help me. These other high school theatre programs have many adults helping them, but here it’s just me. These students noticed that and really stepped up when I needed them to,” said Puetzer.

The idea of a student led production of this size is normally unheard of for first time student directors. Usually student led productions are straight plays and not musicals because they do not require a music director and choreographer.

“We decided to go with this show because it is what the students wanted. Allowing them to pick the show gives them the feeling that the show is theirs and makes them want to work harder to produce a good show,” noted Puetzer.

Starting in January, the students embarked on this journey and began rehearsals. Puetzer tried not to interfere at all during the time of the production.

“I wanted to let them make their own mistakes; I wanted them to be able to find solutions to the problems that normally arise during a production. Challenging them to problem solve like this allows them to create their own process, which is the foundation to becoming a great director,” explained Puetzer.

As the months went by, Puetzer witnessed the show take shape, and noticed something unique about this production compared to the ones he’s previously directed.

“You could tell the moment you walked into rehearsal that the students wanted to be there. Giving them control and putting the responsibility on their shoulders created an environment of creativity. Every student on and off stage could probably name one thing that they contributed to the show whether it was a suggestion for the choreography, or a set piece that they built or painted, they all had the feeling that the production was theirs in some kind of way,” said Puetzer.

The philosophy of the program has so far proven to be a success and students’ knowledge of theatre has grown tremendously. The performances and production quality has gotten praise by teachers and administrators, and audience members who come to see the productions.

“I am very proud of what we have accomplished here; to be able to make a difference in these students’ lives and give them a place to let their creativity run wild is something I will always try to continue to do. We have come a long way in such a short period of time, and I hope we continue down this path, because this program truly teaches students not only about theatre but also how to become better people and prepare them for what is to come in life and that is why I dedicate my time. It is all for them,” said Puetzer.

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