Shining a spotlight on the performing arts community.

Bloomfield Hills High School Theatre: A Wideopen Door to Opportunity

  • May 12, 2022

A Wideopen Door to Opportunity

Some parents quail when their children announce they want a career in the theatre arts; they envision years of their sons and daughters flipping burgers while awaiting that “big chance.”

But at Bloomfield Hills High School, a robust theatre program that comprises every aspect of theatrical production provides students – and parents – insight into every aspect of a stage vocation. Students learn to appreciate the many choices that lay before them, and parents’ concerns ease by knowing their children are making an informed decision about the future.

“Our program is different,” said Mary Bogrette, Theatre Director, “because students have an opportunity to get real experience, mentored by an adult. Selecting different types of material for performance and class gives everyone an opportunity. The tiered classes, especially International Baccalaureate (IB) Theatre, Acting 3, and Advanced Technology, are game-changers. Before, I felt the program was centered around the productions. Now, I feel that the curriculum is just as important.”

In her fourth year as director, Bogrette has been instrumental in building the current program from scratch. “My first year, there was one acting class and one theatre production class offered each term.” Since then, “I have expanded the program and created a new curriculum, so I am currently teaching theatre (acting/technical theatre/IB Theatre) full time.” 

“When I was in 8th grade at the Bloomfield Hills Middle School,” remembered Naomi Parr, senior and a co-president of the International Thespian Society (ITS), an Honor Society for theatre students, “the then high school theatre teacher retired. Mary Bogrette, who was the middle school theater teacher at the time, got the job at the high school and moved up with my grade. Because of this, the current seniors have had her for almost eight years, and many of us think of her as a second mom.” 

Student Catherine Recknagel also seems to have grown up in the BHHS Theatre Program. She helped her older sisters with their theatre projects and has been directly involved in the theatre program for four years. “I have served as an ITS Board President, as an actor, and as a technician.”

Catherine’s mother, Nancy, has been with the program even longer. “This is my ninth season with the BHHS Theatre Program,” she said, adding, “My participation includes being a parent volunteer, a parent booster serving as one of the founding members of BHHS Theatre Boosters; vice president, and [currently] president of BHHS Theatre Boosters.”

Three of Nancy’s daughters have gone through the program, but she began volunteering before there were Boosters. “Things got done, but there was no organizing parent group to support the theatre program.” Having Boosters was a major change, as was moving to a new high school building that included a brand-new theatre auditorium.”

Honing the Competitive Edge

All attribute the theatre program’s success to Director Bogrette.“Under our previous drama director,” said Scot Cleaveland, BHHS Tech Director, “We mounted two mainstage productions annually. With our current director, we typically mount six, [which means] more opportunities for the students to perform and create.” 

In turn, Bogrette attributes her success to an early love for theatre. “I knew I wanted to be involved in theatre in second grade. I started in theatre when I was in elementary school, participating in workshops at Avon Players Community Theatre.” She counts Dr. Timothy Lentz, Margie Montross, Kat LaRose, and “the amazing professors and graduate students at MSU and EMU. I have a BA in theatre from MSU. I was the recipient of the Arts and Letters scholarship for four years. My Shakespeare training in London was a game-changer for me.”

Cleaveland, who began in 2013, also built much of his program, including the Tech Theatre Club, the facilities rental program, and the Theatre Production class, from the bottom up. Admitting that his favorite productions are tech-heavy, such as “the 36-foot diameter turntable for Les Miz, aerial silks for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the lighting and rigging for A Fiddler on the Roof…” and, he concluded, “anytime we use Flying by Foy.” 

Surprisingly, it’s the students that make much of it happen. “We are self-contained,” said Cleaveland. “Meaning, other than parent boosters, the students create, build, light and audio-engineer the entire show.” For Parr, IB Theatre was most pertinent. It has,” she said, “revolutionized the way I learn in and out of the auditorium. It was my most fascinating class, in which I studied theorists, World Theatre traditions, and all elements of devising theater.”

For Catherine Racknagel, her favorite productions have been Clue, Fiddler on the Roof, and Into The Woods,” said Catherine. “For Clue, I student-directed. It was my first directing experience and I have so many special memories.” Some of those memories are bittersweet since it was the final show before Covid. 

“In the spring of my junior year,” said Parr, “like most teens in quarantine, I was not thriving mentally. Because of this, I chose not to do the spring musical and wrote an email to my director explaining I didn’t have the courage I once did to commit to choices and be a good actor. [But] my director recognized that I needed the theater more than ever, that theatre was exactly the healing community I needed to create an outlet and reignite my passion. She brought me into production as an assistant choreographer, and eventually gave me a role when a fellow cast member was sick.”

Into The Woods was the first in-person show, post-Covid, remembered Catherine. “We put a new twist on things – our costumes and set were ‘steampunk.’” Woods, she said, “was the final show for a lot of my friends who were graduating. So getting to do something on stage with them one last time, especially with a show as important as Into The Woods, was really special.”

Not only does the program offers students a glimpse into what it means to have a stage career, but it also gives them much-needed opportunities to advance, “We try to expose each class to a full slate of shows during their high school career – classic and new musicals, comedies, dramas, one-acts, etc.,” said Cleaveland. For success stories, he points out the students who pursue careers in theatre tech – and the millions of dollars in college scholarship offers. Confirmed Bogrette, “Seniors collectively earned over two million dollars in scholarship offers for theatre this year.”

The Ludus Advantage

Bogrette chose Ludus for its transparency and versatility. “Ludus was very transparent about their fees and they don’t charge fees for tickets unless I am charging fees for tickets. Zack and Kevin came up with many solutions to our problems such as figuring out a way to utilize Ludus for a parent silent auction fundraiser. Ludus also has the donation button and I feel like several patrons have utilized that —and they don’t necessarily have a student in the program.” 

“I truly stand in awe in what our performers and tech students achieve with each show,” said Catherine’s mother, Nancy. “Our directors are the dream team; creative, patient, and caring in their roles as theatre and music educators. So many parents have stepped up to support financially, with donations of goods/services, and other volunteer duties. There is outstanding support from alumni and community members who come back to see shows (and buy tickets). It takes a village to make BHHS Theatre successful, and that is what we have.”