Staff shakeup in the Loy Norrix Drama department

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Credit: Elias Nagel-Bennett

Dan Lafferty has been acting for 10 years, starting in local theatre and moving onto travelling work with Missoula Children’s Theatre. He’s now teaching in his first year at Norrix, hoping to carry over the successes of the departing teacher, Mrs. Carrow.

Elias Nagel-Bennett, Staff Writer

J11, that room tucked away in the far side of the building. Low ceilings, dim lights, a consistently cool temperature. For many it is a familiar, or at least a comfortable space. And for as long as any current student can remember, Paige Carrow has been the theater teacher shaping not only the room, but the unique culture of the theatre department at Loy Norrix

Carrow instructed the Drama I, Drama II and Forensics courses. She also acted as the advisor of the Forensics and Improv teams, directed the school plays and oversaw many of the musicals. Carrow had almost full academic control and great responsibility for the drama department as it’s sole teacher. 

Loy Norrix stood, even before COVID, at a precarious spot — only 48% of high schools even have theatre programs, and amongst Midwestern schools that falls to 33%, according to the National Endowment for the Arts

However, towards the end of the summer of 2021, Carrow announced that she would be departing from Loy Norrix, meaning the school had to find a new teacher for the extensive theatre program. 

Many students felt dismayed at the long-time theatre head’s departure, such as senior James Hauke, a Forensics and Improv team member who said, “I think it’s sudden, but I also don’t really find it my duty or obligation to question that. We’re living in a time of unease, and there’s countless teachers who’ve left.” 

A replacement was found in Dan Lafferty, who has taught in the classroom for 5 years, along with other work in behavioral and after school programs. 

Lafferty, a personal friend of Carrow, said, “I’ve been familiar with Loy Norrix as I’ve been here in the past and seen the shows they’ve put on in the past. I’ve always really loved Loy Norrix as a school. The students seem to be so up-beat and positive and generally great students to be around. The staff are always extremely friendly and helpful.”

Lafferty is the new instructor for all of the classes in the drama department and plans to continue the work that came before him. 

“I’m not building from scratch,” Lafferty said. “I want to take that and build upon it. I want to make sure that theatre here at Norrix is accessible to all students, and I want it to feel like a place all students can be safe and have fun and grow as both performers and people.” 

Lafferty plans to produce a musical in January, as well as a play in early May. Auditions for the musical will be in late October or early November and the date and time of auditions will be advertised around the school.

Most drama programs have some form of extracurricular component and Loy Norrix is no stranger to this. Loy Norrix Forensics and Improv are two programs of interest, and though Lafferty has no professional Forensics experience, he is excited to support the club. 

“Forensics is definitely going to take place. We want to build on the amazing forensics program we have here,” Lafferty said.  

Forensics team member and senior Sagan Barber spoke on her fears due to change in leadership. 

“I’m just excited and absolutely terrified for what forensics will be like this year, Barber continued, “It’s what I care about more than anything else I’m involved in. It’s my final season, and I fear it won’t be as fulfilling with a new coach.” 

Lafferty will not be directly coaching the forensics team, instead finding a separate individual to head the organization, though he will still teach the forensics class. The new drama teacher feels somewhat anxious about recruitment for the forensics team and school shows due to the extended period students spent away from in-person school. 

It’s a complete unknown. I don’t know how many people are involved, show up for auditions, how many are active in it. I’m going to be actively recruiting, but I don’t really have fear around it.” Lafferty said.

Over the last 18 months, COVID has shut down most schools in the country, along with their theatre programs. With the Educational Theatre Association still encouraging measures to reduce risk of spread, this spells choppy waters ahead for Lafferty. And with the population which has decided to stay in online class being unable to participate in live theatre classes or clubs, the potential pool of performers has further shrunk. However, he has made it a priority to bounce back and return the program to pre-COVID heights. 

“I know last year they had a production, but it wasn’t a full non-COVID year production, so I think a lot of people weren’t involved in that either. Letting people know we’re going to do everything we did pre-COVID,” Lafferty continued, “Half of the school hasn’t been in the school before, we have to get information for what they know. The biggest challenge is going to be getting information for students, a sense of normalcy. Getting people to know everyone is able and welcome here to participate in our theatre programs, and the normal way we’ve always done it.” 

Though Lafferty plans to return to normalcy, many actors will have to shake off the rust. Aiden Beebe, previously involved in the show ”Mamma Mia!” and the one act play fest in the 2018-2019 school year, commented on his attempts at acting over quarantine. 

“I thought about trying voice acting, but I was too stressed from school and work for that,” Beebe said.

Under such circumstances, opinions are divided on how the new drama teacher could positively impact the department.

Hauke stated that he was generally seeking a return to the status quo, but also said,“Listening to what students have to say, older students have to say, reaching out to alumni would be a great improvement.”

On the other hand, Barber has a different perspective on pre-Covid LN drama. “I feel like there was a lot of favoritism, especially with parents and certain things in casting, and that was a big problem. Casting should be looked at more from a non-biased perspective. That would be nice,” Barber commented.

Clearly, Lafferty and the Loy Norrix Drama department have a big task ahead of them. The new teacher is committed to maintaining and securing the drama department and searching for ways to make the program more inclusive.