Evan Thompson / The Record South Whidbey High School seniors Chloe Hood (left) and Kari Hustad (right) rejuvenated the school’s drama program after a long hiatus.

Ssouth Whidbey student duo brings drama club back to center stage

Combine enthusiasm, a passion for acting and some help from the community, and theater can be made out of thin air.

Just look at what South Whidbey High School seniors Chloe Hood and Kari Hustad have accomplished.

The pair rejuvenated the school’s drama program after it was phased out around a decade ago due to a lack of funding in the district. Last year’s performance of “Almost Maine” directed by former drama program teacher Michael McInerney was the first production in seven years.

Next on deck is “Footloose,” a musical to be performed the first two weekends of November in the South Whidbey High School auditorium and directed by Michael Morgen. Hustad, Hood and more than two dozen other students have been busy prepping after school for several hours on a daily basis. Hustad and Hood said they are seeing enthusiasm, excitement and creative expression like few other activities in the school can provide.

“It feels really, really great,” Hustad said. “I’m extremely proud that we’ve managed to accomplish this and we’re able to provide this opportunity to students that they didn’t have before.”

Hustad and Hood are co-presidents of the drama club and also experienced performers. They’ve both taken the stage at the Whidbey Children’s Theater, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and Island Shakespeare Festival. Hustad and Hood said that while the aforementioned theaters are excellent outlets for the performing arts, the material they performed was sometimes out of sync from what they were experiencing as high schoolers. With the drama program’s resurgence and its material, students can participate in a process alongside others who have similar feelings, lives and problems.

It’s also a safe place for students to be themselves.

“You can be extremely wacky and just try to get to the heart of the art form without having to worry about the judgment of people that are older or you perceive as more skilled,” Hustad said.

They’ve drawn a mix of experienced performers, those who haven’t performed since early childhood and those completely new to the scene. Whatever their experience may be, the students all share a commonality, Hood said.

“I think acting and theater in general is just really empowering,” Hood said. “You’re making art for other people to see. You are really creating these characters to show others. It’s your own creation.”

It wasn’t an easy road getting to where they are now, Hustad and Hood said. Funding has been the biggest challenge, they said, as well establishing the program among all the other activities students can participate in at the school.

“The fact that we haven’t had a drama program for so long, students don’t know about it,” Hood said.

Junior Caroline Burns is glad word about the drama program reached her.

“I love it, honestly,” Burns said.

“There wasn’t a lot of performing arts beforehand in the school. So, to hear this was starting was a great opportunity,” she added.

Burns, who will play Lulu Warnicker in “Footloose,” said acting and performing has brought out something in some “people that I didn’t know they had.”

The atmosphere was loose and fun during a rehearsal Wednesday afternoon when students took the stage to practice a dance routine for the play. They traversed the stage in a number of spins, twists and kicks.

Seeing it all unfold was a flash to the past for Morgen, who was a sophomore at South Whidbey High School when the auditorium was built. He said today’s program wouldn’t exist without the amount of effort, love and extra time Hustad, Hood and other students have put into it.

“The most amazing thing about this has been how much the students are driving it,” Morgen said.

Morgen said a dream of his is to see the level of commitment and sustainability inside the theater be reclaimed. He also said that he would take over the drama program if he could, but is not a certified teacher.

“It’s really exciting to see it happen and I think it’s something that’s just going to build and build in the coming years,” Morgen said.