First published in the June 30 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.
Sequoyah School recently received a $100,000 gift from an anonymous donor to support the growth and development of the high school’s theater program.
The $100,000 will be made over six years to supplement the success of the existing program and expand the nascent department’s resources within the growing high school, which was established in 2016 as the upper division of Sequoyah School’s highly regarded K-8 program, founded in 1958.
Theater at Sequoyah is driven by the practices of exploration, risk taking and creative expression, and is rooted in a deep sense of community and collaboration. Students are offered a unique opportunity to explore the depth and breadth of theater, with classes on improvisation, acting, playwriting, directing and costume design; and others delving into subjects ranging from Shakespeare intensives to theater and social justice. Coursework spans foundational to advanced studies, when students can choose to work immersively as playwrights, designers or directors, culminating in a student-generated festival of one-act plays in the spring. Full-scale theatrical ensemble productions are staged twice each year, with one ensemble drama or comedy and one musical.
Arden Thomas is a founding member of Sequoyah’s high school faculty and a member of both the arts and humanities departments. She has more than 20 years of experience as a theater director and a secondary and post-secondary educator in English, humanities and theater, and holds a Ph.D. in theater and performance studies from Stanford University.
“From our planning process in 2015 and the program’s inception at the high school’s founding in 2016, to this year’s Advanced Theater students designing the costumes for the spring musical, the goals of theater at Sequoyah have been to create a space where students can be wildly creative and authentic, to discuss and represent issues that we care about, and to illuminate stories not often told,” Thomas said.
The theater program at Sequoyah’s high school is grounded in storytelling and ensemble-building, and is a place where students are encouraged to creatively explore multiple modes of self-expression, engage deeply in conversations around justice and equity, and have fun in the process. Students are encouraged to shape their roles based, in part, on their own personal experiences of the world, inspiring them to connect with their characters and with one another on and off the stage. At Sequoyah, students and artists celebrate the unexpected and work together to create theater that fosters a genuine sense of inclusion and belonging that is at the same time meaningful, purposeful, entertaining, artistic and joyful.
Past productions have included “Radium Girls” by D.W. Gregory, “Big Fish” by Andrew Lippa and John August, and the high school premiere of “Antigone X” by Paula Cizmar. Three ensemble productions were presented during the pandemic as films, including an original piece called “#2020” directed by Tyee Tilghman and written and performed by students as a candid portrayal reflecting their experience of the COVID-19 lockdown and significant events therein, including the Black Lives Matter protests, local wildfires, and the presidential election. The 2021-2022 school year featured a festive Shakespeare in the Park production of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” performed on the lawn behind Pasadena’s Gamble House, followed by “Head Over Heels,” written by James Magruder and Jeff Whitty, featuring songs from the all-female American rock band The Go-Gos with characters exploring gender and sexual identities, unbound from heteronormative expectations.
“We are exceedingly grateful for this donation, which affirms the work we have been doing in theater at Sequoyah for the past six years,” said Thomas and Marc Alongi, Sequoyah’s High School director, in a joint statement. “This additional financial support will create reinforced scaffolding for us to build upon our founding aspirations as our program — and our school community — continues to grow.”
Sequoyah School is an independent K-12 day school in Pasadena, California, offering an innovative college-preparatory curriculum in a student-centered, experiential and humanistic environment. The school offers a developmentally appropriate program from kindergarten through high school. In keeping with its mission — “A Sequoyah education challenges the mind, nurtures the heart and celebrates human dignity” — the school’s program supports a student’s social and emotional growth alongside their academic progress.