The iridescent sheen of sequined glasses, ties, belts and hats take command of the opening number at the Austin convention center. Mr. Cheap enters the stage with a disgusted expression and remarks that the students remind him of Elton John.
The audience roars with laughter as they watch this satirical parody of fine arts programs losing the school budget-cut battle to Mr. Cheap.
This was the opening scene as educators and school board members gathered for the annual Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) convention Friday, Sept. 30. Decatur Superintendent Rod Townsend serves as president of TASA. He was in charge of providing the opening entertainment.
“I have never been more proud to be a part of a community than I was at that performance,” Townsend said. “With tears in my eyes I told the audience of 5,000 who I was, where I was from and that Decatur ISD was a great school district.”
Long before the show was staged, administrators knew the 30 minutes of fame would take more than 30 hours of rehearsal time.
“When we hired the new superintendent, he told us he was the president of this association,” McCarroll Middle School Assistant Principal Teela Watson said. “We knew about TASA since last August.”
Additional resources were needed to pull the program together. Watson called in Brad White, a retired fine arts director from Birdville ISD.
“We felt like (Lance) Morse (DISD fine arts director) had the creative ability to build the show, but we knew he would be limited with time,” Watson said. “We quickly followed that up by realizing that we needed someone to help us who was not a full-time employee.”
White produced a convocation showcase for Birdville ISD that Watson never forgot.
“One of the most powerful performances I saw was one directed by Mr. White,” Watson said.
With a decision on direction, questions emerged on the script of the show.
“We felt it was important for the show to be a student-driven project, so we decided to get my Theatre II class involved with the creation of the production,” Morse said.
The class incorporated various acts by scripting an anywhere-in-Texas talent show. The main character, Mr. Cheap, would represent a state education finance man visiting a school and discovering ways to slash school programs to ease the state’s education deficit.
“We had to find some practical way to put it all together to make it make sense,” Morse said.
Along with the theatre department, additional acts included the jazz band, choir, drill team, ballet, flamenco, soloists and acts including elementary students. In all, almost 90 students from Decatur ISD participated in the production.
“The cast has done a fabulous job in preparing the show,” White said. “It was fun combining kids that were interested in different arts. You get to pull together all kinds of different styles of talent.”
Rehearsals for the showcase began two weeks prior to the first day of school.
“It was tons of work; it was so many hours, but we really grew from it,” junior Karleigh Norris said.
The first show was performed a week before the first day of school at the DISD faculty and staff convocation.
“The performance for DISD was a little more personal than the show at Austin, because we had monologues directed towards our teachers,” junior Kelsey Smith said.
With the school year underway, the cast met only once more for an eight-hour rehearsal the Saturday before the trek to Austin.
“It kind of frightened me that we only had one huge rehearsal,” Smith said. “It went a lot better than I thought it would.”
The hard work finally paid off last Saturday.
The show received rave reviews.
“The reaction was extremely positive,” Townsend said. “I had 50 to 60 people stop me to comment on the performance and all of the talent that Decatur ISD had on the stage at one time.”
Despite the hard work and talent, a message to the audience is apparent.
“I want the elected officials to understand that they can reduce whatever they want to and try to limit our resources, but we will always work to improve the lives of our students in Decatur ISD,” Townsend said.