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January 4, 2011 > Washington High School Theater Gala

Washington High School Theater Gala

By Arathi Satish

To create, direct and run a show to the delight of an audience is every drama teacher's wish; a state-of-the-art theater is every teacher's dream. This dream is becoming a reality for Theater Arts Director Matthew Ballin and his students at Washington High School (Fremont) who invite the public to a fund-raising gala evening celebrating the new Husky Theater on Friday, January 7th. Attendees will be treated to a silent auction at 6 p.m., followed by pasta dinner at 6:30 p.m., and culminating with an Alumni Show at 8 p.m. This event is a wonderful opportunity for past students to share their memories about WHS Theater and how it helped shape their lives.

Performing arts was a tradition at Washington even before there was a theater on campus. Looking through photographs and the list of shows presented over a period of more than 100 years is a walk through local history.

The Washington High School campus, built in 1923, had a beautiful theater where, for nearly 50 years, students watched plays and participated in other community events. Margaret Thornberry, President of Fremont Cultural Arts Council, says:

"Activities at the Washington High School Theater were a big part of community activity for many decades, even before Fremont was incorporated". Those who attended WHS, participated in the theatrical productions, or attended those events recall the old theater fondly. From the 20's on, a typical season generally included a Christmas pageant in December, the Vodvil in the spring, Senior Play in the latter part of the school year and other plays tossed in as the opportunity presented itself."

Washington High School graduate Dr. Harry Avila pointed out:

"It is important to reflect on the value of the theatrical productions at Washington High School and how those productions played a significant role in the development of life skills as well as honing the talents of many of Washington's alumni. Therefore: Keep the river flowing!"

The original Washington High School Theater and school building were condemned in 1972 due to earthquake-related safety hazards. Patrons of the arts, educators and concerned citizens joined forces to restore the building. Fremont Cultural Arts Council members led by then President Doris Green were very active in a widespread citizen effort to preserve and restore the high school and theater. This effort preserved and upgraded the decorative faŤade of the school but in 2000, the theater was demolished and replaced with an open-air amphitheater. Local theater lovers and those who think live theater is an essential part of developing poise, confidence in public speaking and memorization skills felt an acute loss.

Plans for new school construction did not include a theater, and the drama program has since been housed in a double portable classroom. In spite of being handicapped by such a limited facility, the 100 year old theater tradition at Washington High School has continued with plays produced in the outdoor amphitheater and the school cafeteria.

This past summer the drama program moved from the portable classrooms to the former wood shop, which, with a little imagination, had the potential for theater space. Fremont Unified School District pitched in, cleared everything out, painted all surfaces matt black and provided a new paint sink. The crimson stage curtains from the old WHS Theater were found and hung, and just a week before school started... the theater was back!

Matthew Ballin and his students have been working hard to transform the former wood shop into a genuine theater. Drama classes are held every day using the stage for performances of class scenes and other projects. Ballin says, "We think this space has great potential to be a wonderful teaching facility for the performing arts; and at a fraction of the cost of what it would be to build a new one."

The mission of the Washington High School Theater Arts Program is to provide an environment where students can discover the skills to entertain and educate an audience, guidance to improve those skills, develop new ones and strive to maximize each student's artistic understanding and impact on their community and the world.

While the theater space may be called 'The Husky Theater' honoring the Washington High School mascot, it could just as well be called 'The Phoenix Theater,' rising from the demolition debris of the old WHS Theater. Jack Parry, WHS graduate and thespian from the 30's, a Niles Rotarian pointed out that all alumni from past years will want to attend.

Interested in participating, supporting and encouraging a great local cause? There's more to be done. The Washington High School Performing Arts Club invites everyone to the gala. Money realized from this event will provide additional lighting, wardrobe and other important upgrades to the theater. Those unable to attend can help too. The theater needs equipment and resources to build a stage, dressing rooms, audience risers, a control booth and more.

To learn more about the theater project or volunteer materials or other assistance, contact Matthew Ballin at 510-505-7300, ext: 67512. He can also be reached at

WHHS Theater Gala
Friday, January 7
6 p.m.
Washington High School
38442 Fremont Blvd., Fremont
(510) 505-7300, ext: 67512
$30 per person

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