Educators by day, thespians by night

Transformation: School employees and their families step inside classic musical 'My Fair Lady' to raise funds for learning

February 18, 2011 

My Fair Lady

About 65 Olympia School District faculty members, staff and students will perform in the musical "My Fair Lady," Feb. 24-27. Proceeds of the show will benefit the Olympia School District Education Foundation.

BY STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian

  • If you go

    What: “My Fair Lady,” a musical benefiting the Olympia School District Education Foundation, features district employees and their family members.

    When: 7 p.m. Feb. 24-26; 2 p.m. Feb. 26-27

    Where: Olympia High School Performing Arts Center, 1302 North St., Olympia (although the entrance is on the Carlyon Avenue side of the school)

    Tickets: $15 reserved, $12 general admission

    Information: www.seatyourself.biz/olympiasd or 360-753-8853

By day, he's Jon Halvorson, a second- and third-grade teacher at Hansen Elementary School.

By night, he’s Henry Higgins (pronounced with silent Hs), a professor of phonetics who plans to transform an unruly Cockney flower girl into a proper young lady.

Halvorson and about 65 other Olympia School District employees and their family members have spent weeks rehearsing “My Fair Lady,” which opens Thursday at Olympia High School’s Performing Arts Center.

“We’re having a good time with the accents,” Halvorson said during a recent rehearsal. “That’s been a challenge, and fun.”

“Especially when you play a character who pronounces things correctly,” he added, using an exaggerated British accent.

The classic musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” is this year’s fundraiser for the Olympia School District Education Foundation.

For 16 years, the nonprofit has produced a play or musical to raise money for its programs that support student learning, such as classroom grants for teachers, field trip and activity scholarships for needy students, and extra support for middle and high school math and science programs.

“All of it goes right back to students in the district,” said the show’s director Michelle Whittaker, a consulting specialist with the Olympia Regional Learning Academy.

The cast is made up of volunteers who are associated with the school district. They include teachers, principals, paraeducators, librarians and classified staff members; even Superintendent Bill Lahmann has a role.

“We have all kinds of district employees and their families,” Whittaker said. “We have a lot of folks in our cast who do local community theater and do theater and dance with their students.”

To help keep costs low, most of the cast members have pulled together their own costumes with things they found in their closets, picked up at a thrift store or borrowed from friends. A South Sound costume shop donated some of the larger period pieces – including lead character Eliza Doolittle’s feathery hat, Whittaker said.

The foundation expects to pay between $3,500 to $5,000 for scripts, music and sets. The shows typically bring in between $25,000 to $45,000 through ticket sales and sponsorships, Whittaker said.

Known as the Olympia School District Players, cast members auditioned in December. “Everybody who auditions gets to be in the show,” Whittaker said.

Rehearsals began as soon as school resumed in January after winter break.

The group chose “My Fair Lady” because it’s a classic, it appeals to families and makes use of a large cast of actors, Whittaker said. Past productions have included “Beauty and the Beast,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Guys and Dolls,” and last year’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It’s getting harder to find ones that haven’t been done already,” Whittaker said.

Nearly half of this year’s cast has performed in past musicals, including Cristy Havens, a teacher and consultant who will play Doolittle, the show’s lead character who has grown up in the slums without manners, pretty clothes or “proper English.”

“It’s kind of that Cinderella story where the poor girl gets to go to the ball and dance with the prince,” Havens said.

But by the end of the play, a larger theme surfaces, Whittaker said.

“A lot of it is on the growth of people,” she said. “It’s about how you can meet people who affect you in very profound ways, and you might not realize it until they’re gone.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, lpemberton@theolympian.com

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