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North Central reinvigorates theater program with ‘Chicago’ as school layoffs claim drama teacher

April 13, 2019

Leah Dach is a drama teacher, not a drama queen.

A day after learning that she probably won’t have a job next year at North Central High School, Dach was all business.

She was focused on making the school’s upcoming production of “Chicago” the best it can be – and empowering her students by producing NC’s first musical in three years.

And now they will: “Chicago” is coming to the NC Theater later this month.

“I’m hoping that they learn that they can do it,” Dach said during rehearsal Friday afternoon. “I’m hoping that what they take from this is that they can do any show.”

But there will be no melodrama, despite the bad news delivered on Thursday.

That’s when Spokane Public Schools – which is facing a projected budget deficit of $31 million next year – notified 184 teachers and other certificated staff of possible layoffs effective this summer.

As a first-year teacher, Dach was among them.

Former North Central drama teacher Tom Armitage was disappointed at the news.

“Losing Leah would mean setting the program back 40 years,” Armitage said Friday. “When I started that program in 1979 it started with one or two classes. There wasn’t very much there. Leah now has a full load of theater arts classes.”

“Most likely they would have to hire someone in the district who is barely qualified who just wants to keep their job,” Armitage said. “I certainly don’t know of anyone who is as committed and driven to support the program at NC as Leah is.”

Students were also disappointed.

“It’s incredibly disheartening, because she’s really important to us,” said drama student Megan Jones. “Everbody’s kind of upset, but we’re hoping for the best for her.”

Dach was hoping for the best from her cast. “Nothing’s ever certain,” she said before steering the conversation back to the show, which opens on April 25.

“It’s a really big undertaking and some were nervous about thinking that North Central couldn’t pull off such a big show,” said Dach, who has 15 years of experience as artistic director with Theater Arts for Children in Spokane Valley.

“That was even more reason to do a show like this, and the kids have taken to this swimmingly,” she said.

They’ve also taken to Dach, who gave them confidence last fall with the production of “See How They Run,” a set-heavy comedy by Philip King. Each of the show’s six performances drew large audiences of more than 650 people.

No wonder enthusiasm is high for “Chicago.”

Senior Katie Hawkinson and junior Porter Lawrence are stage managing the show and are enrolled in Dach’s advanced drama class.

“When I came to NC, I was interested in furthering myself as an artist, and I found a really great community here,” Hawkinson said. “I like the sense of community she’s built, how she’s made drama feel like a welcoming place for every single person in this school. … She goes out of her way to have a connection with students, and that shows in the way she teaches and directs.”

Lawrence hopes the NC drama department will build its reputation within Spokane and performing “Chicago” is the first step.

The show is the school’s first musical in three years and the first since Armitage retired.

“Chicago” was written by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb and features music by John Kander and lyrics by Ebb. It takes place in the 1920s and centers on two accused murderers, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. The women use their arrests to gain fame and sympathy in order to get away with their crimes.

Emma York, a sophomore who has a passion for singing and has participated in community theater for several years, plays Roxie, the murderess who shot her lover.

“I love it. It’s such a different character from anything I’ve been exposed to because she’s so evil,” York said. “It’s really a lot of fun to be able to experiment with a person like that and get inside of her skin.”

Junior Molly Mickey, who has been performing since she was nine, plays Roxie’s cohort Velma.

“It’s really exciting. It’s hard but in a fun way. She’s completely different from me,” Mickey said of her character.

When Dach was considering producing “Chicago,” some told her it would be too difficult, and many of the students had never been in a musical. She heard “you can’t” so often that she felt she had to do it. “You say we can’t do it, so we’re going to do it. I want (the cast and crew) to prove people wrong,” she said.