Theatre is Beautiful

IMG_0096Remnants of memory still fill the walls of the storage area behind the cafeteria, words from across the years looking down on piles of plywood sets and platforms, scraps of faux brick, wooden boxes, swinging stage doors, and even a wooden shield or two. This was once “backstage,” though there wasn’t actually a connecting door that actors could open, when the stage at ACMA was the south end of the Quonset Hut. This was before the Performing Arts Center opened on campus in 2010 and it saw the genesis of theatre at ACMA.

“There wasn’t a shell or cyclorama to hide the wooden backstage structure” recalls Linda Bloom, who taught theatre and tech in that airplane hanger. “One year there was a technical theatre class. The first order of business was to paint the backstage area black. We also painted the stage black. Lots of black paint, many hours, several coats. It was starting to look like a real theatre space.”

Those early shows were adventures in ingenuity for clever directors, flexible performers, and Herculean stage managers. “Dressing Rooms? There were two locker rooms behind the stage area,” explained Linda Bloom. “The custodial staff used one for excess supplies/furniture. The other was for props and costumes, in bad need of organizing. Tech theatre began to hang costumes and label the prop boxes. Casts preferred to change in the school restrooms. This meant the building had to be opened during any type of performance because there were no self-contained restrooms in the food court facility, proper makeup lights were non-existent. The cast put on makeup and dressed in the restrooms, while the audience was also using them.” She laughed at the memory, grief softened by time gone by, and then described the ACMA production of Bullshot Drummond, a crime farce “with about three thousand props, each used barely once.”

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Those long tables of hats, and books, and coffee cups, stretched out in the “prop room,” which Linda explained “was also considered the ‘green room’ where the actors hung when they weren’t on stage. Of course they couldn’t hear the  show, and that meant they couldn’t hear their cues, so frequent visits to the backstage happened often, so as not to miss an entrance.”

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 9.03.03 AMACMA’s first musical was in that almost real looking space, The Apple Tree, in 2009. Brian Bertram remembers that “it sat roughly eighty people in very uncomfortable chairs. The ‘dressing rooms’ were on either side of the stage, and some overflow in the portables. Nevertheless, we had a two person live band (keyboards by Jodie DeHaven, all other instruments by Alex Milstead). The refrigerators that always had to stay plugged in would kick on in the middle of every performance, and they were SO loud! Performances always smelled like chicken nuggets, and we had little control over the heat. Rehearsals took place all over the school in any found space with a piano.”

That willingness and ability to stand by the old axiom the show must go on was just something ACMA theatre did. Our kids owned “our makeshift stage with pride, confidence, and a love of theatre that transcends the space,” remembers Brian Bertram, “making it a magical place, filled with passion and excitement.”

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The Apple Tree wasn’t the only show with that passion and excitement. Jon Albertson recalled a production of Much Ado About Nothing set as a 1960s Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach picture. The war was replaced by a surf contest, and he played the friar while his son played Leonato. “My most vivid memory is completely spacing my lines during the wedding scene,” he told me “and my son leaned over and cued me.”

Performers working together made the space work, sometimes magically.

From Gossip to Kahlo’s View, jazz concerts, dance shows, The Good Doctor, and Antigone, ACMA thespians, musicians, dancers, and other performers made the stage their own.

Even after those programs left the Quonset Hut, whispers of memory remain.

IMG_0102They can be heard with a visit into the rooms behind what was the stage today. On the walls, messages from theatre students (addressed to theatre students) talk about love, appreciation, and the importance of taking risks and making art.

Students who performed in this unique venue could tell you a thing or two about making creative magic.

IMG_1218Ovid’s Metamorphosis, for example, when Director David Sikking and his crew built a giant pond to serve as the stage. Actors were barefoot, and moved over and around the water as part of the show.

…and when they knew it was coming to an end as a performance space, creativity had one last surprise. For ACMA’s production of Alice in Wonderland, theatre techs cut trapdoors in the stage, knowing this was the final show. Fanciful, fabulous, and freeing, the “cafegymnatorium” had one final run to offer the performers.

No matter the space, the creativity that artists bring to their surroundings can be inspiring. As the back of a weathered metal door tucked in the back of what is now a storage room tells anyone willing to listen: “Theatre is Beautiful.”


Breaking Fire Codes, Probably

“How many of you have never been in the principal’s office? Show of hands.”

A few perplexed looks. “Not for misbehavior,” I added, “just for any reason, you’ve never physically been in that particular room at the school.” A few more hands went up, fewer than I expected, which was marvelous.

We were finishing a Senior Ohana, where the class of 2019 was hearing about caps and gowns, how to audition for the senior speech, and getting my paternal advice about making good choices and the fact that the police see hijinks in a different way than they might.

We’d torn through the list of end of the year activities and responsibilities, nominated staff members to give a speech at graduation, and talked about the big breakfast on the last day of school. After all of that, I offered to them an opportunity for creativity and discomfort.

IMG_0259They were curious.

I asked for that show of hands.

And then, the invitation.

This May ACMA is staging the first ever ACMA Spectacular! It’s two evenings of performance and art that include every creative corner of our school. Students will sing, act, dance, make music, and make the audience applaud like they’ve never applauded before. There will be collaborations between artistic pathways, a slew of student art in the foyer (for sale to benefit the school), and some surprises thrown in to boot.

Our writers and filmmakers, sculptors and storytellers, everyone will have a hand in putting on an event whose scale our little art school has never seen. Amid a busy May, it’s the biggest show in town, and I explained to my seniors that to talk about the ACMA Spectacular in my monthly video message I needed something more than my usual talking head. I needed something …spectacular!


If you’ve ever wondered if fifty or so students can fit in the principal’s office at one time, some with horns and bass guitars, the answer is a resounding YES. If you wonder if a group like that will laugh a lot, be kind to each other, and make their principal the proudest educator in the world, another big affirmative.

ACMA’s class of 2019 is an astounding collection of creative, kind, and collaborative souls, and today I was blessed with their company, energy, and smiles. It was spectacular!



What if we got everyone together, all the performing arts: theater, dance, jazz, orchestra, vocal music; asked our writers to read their works and filmmakers to screen what they’ve been working on; filled the foyer with visual art, sculpture, and even included some of that in art in the show? What if we made something big, something that showed off every corner of ACMA, from our composers to choreographers, painters, poets, filmmakers and more? It would be, quite simply …spectacular.

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The conversation, which ran like a wildfire through our ACMA staff, was prompted by some creative thinking ACMA PTO members who were looking for something other than the traditional auction to support our kids. ACMA has never been conventional, and the idea of doing something that welcomed everyone, adults and families and put the focus squarely on the art just made sense. Beautiful, unconventional, ACMA sense.

So… rather than an evening where the star of the show is a stranger rapidly reciting numbers, this year we’ve given the emceeing to one of our ACMA family, we’ve broken out of the conventionality of of a dinner and series of speeches, and we’ve put together creative acts that the community will be talking about for years to come. More than a parade of items to bid on, this show will be a cavalcade of creativity. Rather than tell folks about what our students do, we’re excited to show them the astounding artistry ACMA artists are capable of. Jaws will drop.

One of the joys of being the principal at ACMA is having the opportunity to see student artists creating every day. In studios and classrooms, I see kids painting, animating, writing, singing, dancing, playing jazz, sculpting, drawing, taking photographs, making movies, designing sets and costumes, playing classical music, and more. To call that inspiring undervalues the word inspiring. Under one roof we have such a broad spectrum of art that not everyone gets to see. Until now.

This May ACMA is going to share its collective creativity with the world in our first ever ACMA Spectacular! It promises to live up to its name.

Our dancers will dance, our musicians will make music, our writers will read, our filmmakers have been working on films all year for this event. Anyone visiting the Performing Arts Center will see sculpture, drawing, and painting, all of it for sale to benefit our students. In addition to those pathway specific performances we’ll also have collaborations between departments, some never seen on stage before. Tickets for the two shows are on sale now, and are well worth the price of admission, all of which goes to supporting student artists at ACMA.

It’s that idea of supporting kids that is at the center of all of this, and celebrating art as we do so. Truth be told, I’ve had a good time at more than a few auctions over the years, but I’ve never looked forward to an auction the way I’m excited about this year’s adventure in art.

It will be the biggest collaboration ACMA has ever seen and every ticket purchased, every piece of art sold to an ACMA patron (and there will be so many at such a range of prices), will help to ensure that the arts can continue to thrive.

Today more than ever the importance of art looms large. As budgets constrict and the world turns its eyes toward less poetic matters, art, and the artists who make it, continue to be a source of hope.

Joining us for the ACMA Spectacular, either on Friday night, for a more streamlined show, perfect for families; Saturday, with every bell and whistle; or even Saturday’s VIP experience, for those patrons of ACMA arts who want to contribute in a big way (and will get a bonus pre-show historical tour, concert, and ACMA gift bag), joining us for any of those experiences is a great way to enjoy great art, cheer amazing artists, and contribute to the future of ACMA art yet to be created.

It should be really fun too.

And since this is the last year students are here at the present campus that opened as CE Mason Elementary School in 1949, we’ve put together some historical retrospectives that celebrate the entire life of our little school. Our audience will take a look into the past, revel in the artistry of the present, and join us in looking to a future that promises to be …Spectacular!

Tickets are on sale now for both shows at our PTO website
Family Friday, May 17 at 7:00 PM

Gala Saturday, May 18th at 7:00 PM


Untroubled by origins
I allow myself the delight
Of an unexpected discovery
Inviting adventure.

The climb and crawl
To the attic was real,
A story unlike any other
In our storied school’s history.
My steadfast companions
From that day will live
In the part of my heart
Reserved for Hardy Boys books,
Summer forts
And the Daniel Boone coonskin cap of my youth.

The volume of Scott was real
Older than our school
By more than a hundred years
Its inscription:
To Mary St. More
Christmas 1890
A story I will never know.

The very real key fit a lock
In a wooden door from 1949
Turning when guided by a student’s hand
And engaging the antique lock with a very real

The words in the story
Of pirates and poets and puppets
As real as many stories I’ve read at school
Led to a very real map
And a spot in the very real grass
So green with spring
After such a long, long winter
Where a very real mason jar
Held a cow everyone recognized
As belonging to a girl named Mary.

Whoever, however,
These matter less to me
Than the very real adventure
The very real discovery
The very real laughter and digging and fun
That these objects brought
To the most important part of this great game
The treasure hunters,
All of them,
Who helped bring to life
Admiral Clarence Morgan Arbuthnot.


Book, Journal, and Key

There was a bit of a stir at ACMA on Monday, April 1st, when three students who were helping me measure some huge wooden beams in the attic above the library (a dark and dusty place where no one ever goes) found a small, weatherbeaten journal, an old book by Walter Scott (without a copyright, but with an inscription dated Christmas 1890), a set of (now) antique pliers, and a key.


Over the past week I posted images of the journal’s pages, and many students have visited my office to take a look at the originals, but a few have asked if anyone was going to transcribe the handwriting and I’ve done my best to do so here.

I’ll write more on this adventure in the weeks to come, I’m sure, but for now I wanted to offer my intrepid treasure hunting ACMAniacs an easier to read version of that antiquated scrawl. Click here for a link to a PDF of the Journal of Clement Arbuthnot


Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 1.58.13 PMIt only makes sense that an unconventional school would have an unconventional newspaper. The ACMA Savant, a print staple on campus in the 2000s, began with the mission:

Savant is a student-organized, student-written youth zine. We of the Savant staff believe that school journalism belongs to the students and that school news should be reported by the students. We also believe that each art pathway at our school should be represented in the paper as equals to the best of our ability. We, the Savant staff, pledge to work hard, dig deep, and most importantly, to represent our unique, amazing school to its fullest extent.”

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 1.58.43 PMYou can find many Savants catalogued online, and inside these issues you’ll find a window into the world of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy as quirky and opinionated, playful and iconoclastic, funny and heartfelt as the students who populated the school.

A sampling of articles shows ACMA Thespians volunteering at West Tualatin Valley Elementary School, sharing their love of performance with kids who saw them as stars; movie reviews, including advice on what to rent at the video store; and even a nice feature on Mr. Bertram’s wedding. What school puts in a feature on a teacher’s wedding? ACMA.

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Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 1.57.55 PMCensorship looms large in several of the issues, discussions about the censoring of Capstones, of student art, even of Savant articles. One issue includes a funny mea culpa about Savant editors scratching out “one simple line,” an error in proofreading, as they explained it, that this many years later sparks curiosity as it prompts a smile.

Horoscopes, editorial cartoons, features on student bands, Savants throughout the years capture the spirit of ACMA, and a huge part of that spirit: art.

From drawings to photographs, poetry, stories, and articles about performances, Savants show ACMA students doing what they love, celebrating an unconventional school with an unconventional publication. So very ACMA.

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