The GHS senior play tradition returns for 2nd year in a
row with ‘The Pajama Game’
Gilroy – The man behind the revival of Gilroy High School’s senior play harbors a little secret – he didn’t join the cast of his own senior production.
“My year they didn’t let us choose (the play), so I boycotted,” said Ethan Stocks, who returned to his alma mater to teach English and drama.
So, his classmates performed the musical “Fame” and Stocks remained on the sidelines. When the 25-year-old resurrected the senior play, a tradition that had withered away, he didn’t forget his clash with authority.
Stocks, who serves as the producer and Dennis Beasley, the director, went for a more democratic approach, giving the cast a selection of about five productions to choose from. This year the students selected “The Pajama Game,” a musical currently on Broadway starring Harry Connick Jr.
“We’re hoping people will confuse our production with that one,” Stocks joked.
The senior play was a longstanding tradition at Gilroy High School, something students looked forward to as they approached their final year of high school. Beasley, a 1998 GHS graduate, fondly remembers when he starred as Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
But the drama department traveled over some rocky terrain once the new millennium hit. The senior-only-play tradition was invoked by Jim Maya. During Maya’s decade-plus-long tenure as GHS drama instructor the production continued to gain in popularity.
For his final production of “The Music Man,” about 100 students showed up to audition. And when now Vice Principal Greg Camacho-Light, took over in 1994 the interest waned a bit. But the tradition still held strong with between 70 and 80 students auditioning annually.
It wasn’t until Camacho-Light left in 1999 and Kurt Meeker grabbed the drama helm in the fall of 2000, that serious issues arose. Meeker only staged one senior play during a four-year period before being fired for allowing students to perform a series of skits containing sexual references and inappropriate language.
Two years ago Stocks, who graduated from GHS in 1999, was hired on to cure the anemic drama program. Reviving the senior play was one of the directives.
“Well, they told me I had to,” he said with a laugh. “I knew about this and I knew it had fallen by the wayside.”
His first year back, the senior class performed “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Although Beasley, 26, could only star in a senior play once, he worked on all of them while attending GHS. Only seniors can act in the play but underclassman are allowed to serve in any other capacity.
Since the production is solely for seniors, many of the actors aren’t part of the drama clique and don’t have acting or singing backgrounds.
“It’s like a senior activity,” Beasley said. “It’s whoever decides they want to be in it.”
About 35 teens auditioned for “The Pajama Game” – still far below the heyday of the senior play – and about 25 actually stuck around. Everyone who auditions for the play is accepted.
The vast majority are choir members, a statistic that makes perfect sense considering “The Pajama Game” is a musical. Having performed about 25 shows, Ryan Daugherty, the male protagonist of the play, is no novice to drama.
When the 18-year-old, who grew up watching the GHS senior play, began high school he was bummed to discover that the tradition had dissolved. He assumed that his senior year would come and the play would still be on the outs.
But during dress rehearsal while decked out in his dapper Sid Sorokin attire, Daugherty smiled. Participating in the senior play allow him to meet individuals outside of his usual circle, he said.
“You have the sports kids here …” he said. “I’ve had someone from every single (clique).”
Elizabeth Rothenberg chose to partake in the senior play simply “’cause it’s a senior thing.”
“It’s kind of a thing that brings people together,” said the 17-year-old who plays a factory worker.
While hugging her friend Rebekka Germershausen, a German exchange student, Rothenberg explained that she met at least three new students while practicing for the play. And she got to know Germershausen much better.
The Richard Adler musical, which first hit Broadway in 1954, takes place at a pajama factory where two unlikely characters fall in love in the midst of a labor dispute.
Babe Williams is the leading the factory workers union, as they fight for a seven-and-a-half-cent pay raise. When Sleeptite Pajama Factory Superintendent Sid Sorokin shows up, the two begin a stormy, song-filled relationship.
The Broadway production was made into a movie in 1957, starring Doris Day.
– When: Today
and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm, and March 23-25 at 8pm
– Ticket Prices: $10, available at the door, GHS main office or from any cast member
*Lifestyles Editor Katie Niekerk contributed to this article.