Letter: On the Mt. Hope theater program

Posted 2/2/23

To the editor:

I’m writing in response to the article, ‘ Theater to be ‘phased out’ of Mt Hope High School’ , stating that the decision was driven by low enrollment …

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Letter: On the Mt. Hope theater program


To the editor:

I’m writing in response to the article, ‘Theater to be ‘phased out’ of Mt Hope High School’, stating that the decision was driven by low enrollment and the need for growing the program at Kickemuit Middle School.

As the most recent director of the middle school theater program (with my volunteer helper Jim Hagan, who was one of the original founders of the KMS Masquers in 1997), I was surprised to read statements throughout the article that seemed to ignore the existence of our program for 20+ years. I won’t document that history here, but I know there are many folks in the community who participated in our school productions and could share their personal stories, passion for theater, and gratitude for the safe space that theater gave them as young people. I still think about all the amazing kids, some now at MHHS, in college, and beyond, that we had the privilege of working with.

The superintendent mentioned “growing theater and acting at the middle school to keep kids engaged and interested” but, instead of pointing out the past successes of our program, she continued with, “I think we’ve been hoping every year that it would rebuild itself and kids would just come into it and more kids would be interested, but it’s been six years and that hasn’t happened.” Six years ago, even three years ago, theater was alive and well at both KMS and MHHS, and it still would be, if not for circumstances which were beyond our control.

Sadly, our KMS theater program was suspended abruptly in March of 2020, one week away from opening night, when COVID shut down schools across the US, as well as so much of the world as we knew it. In that moment, all we knew was that our public performances were cancelled. The show at MHHS was just getting started at that time, but it was also cancelled. I think we all held out hope that the crisis would pass and we’d be able to perform sometime in the future. But of course we had no way of knowing that it was the beginning of a pandemic that would stretch even into the current school year.

And then, changes in BWRSD arts programs came the following year, when the School Budget Subcommittee voted at a May 2021 meeting to eliminate the award winning MHHS Masqueraders Theater Program and its teacher, as well as the KMS chorus teacher and director. While those decisions were eventually altered, thankfully, due to public outcry, I believe what we are seeing now is their devastating effect. It may be that the current low enrollment is a result of a reduced program offering, and not the other way around.

I hope that my response here will bring people to the table to plan a brighter future for theater arts in Bristol-Warren. I worry about what kind of community and culture will we become without them.

Sally K. Caruso

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.