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How Mark Keppel High School packs an emotional punch with its theater program

  • All photos courtesy of Mark Keppel High School.


Alhambra , CA United States

Along with Alhambra High School and its recent production of Kiss Me Kate, Mark Keppel High School has an excellent drama club, whose members work endlessly throughout the year: fundraising, rehearsing, training, building and doing everything else that it takes to put its productions together. Parents and patrons who understand the value of having a theater program also help raise awareness and money for these clubs that get no state or educational funding.

Page Phillips, the director of the Mark Keppel Theater company, works as a drama teacher during the day, but also devotes many unpaid hours to keeping the program up and running.

“We do an all school talent show every spring,” Phillips said, when it comes to fundraising. A haunted house in October and some clever supporting events, such as a red-carpet ceremony for the opening of a production, and live and silent auctions. “Everyone dressed up for the event and we had great appetizers and really cool auction items,” Phillips described.

This past March, the Mark Keppel High School Theater Company presented The Suitcase Dreams. Although there are no current performances of this play, the impact of this outstanding production warrants a mention as another example of the work that Alhambra’s teenagers and their mentors are contributing to the city’s arts and culture scene.

The Suitcase Dreams by Mike Lawler, Jessica Lanius, Tyler Marchant, Karen Olivo and Gwendolyn Rice, with additional scenes written by Keppel Students Tatiana Garnett, Abel Rock, and Evan Sakuma, is an experimental theater piece performed by an ensemble of actors.

With a crafty set designed by Keppel alum Jackie Gil, the play opens on a circular pedestal with stairs, ramps and wooden steps leading to a sea of suitcases of all different colors, sizes and era styles. A melodic and stirring score, composed and performed impeccably by Brendan Cheng, Mina Tran and Tommy Ho set the mood along with an elaborate lighting design by Tim Gillette. One by one the characters come on stage, each taking a suitcase, each verbalizing some sentence or simple phrase that fill our daily life. What happens next is 30 short moments, scenes, and monologues that share the common thread: We all have baggage.

The play moves quickly with moments of subtlety, drama and whimsy. Standing out with strong storytelling was the haunting tale entitled “The Devil Fish,” grippingly told by Dylan Djoenadi as well as the student written entries, including the heart tugging “Inseparable” by Abel Rock, and the clever story of two young people who find a way to accept who they are, without the interference of conformity, in Tatiana Garnett’s witty “Hands.” Lending moments of broad comedy performed with skilled timing were Terena Phan and Zen Tran as two clowns, one tragic, one joyful, making their voyage through life through steamer trunks and fumbled circus tricks.

Rounding out the ensemble were David Martinez and Cristina Porras, who gave solid performances as a young couple who agree to carry each other’s luggage, Evan Sakuma and Albert Aguilar in a tender piece about a couple who fear change, and Christopher Fu, Celeste Nguyen, Tiffany Lai, Daniel Vazquez and Emily Wu, easing their way through the many pieces so quickly and gracefully that the talented ensemble gave the illusion of a very large cast.

The high school theater clubs are supported through ticket sales, fundraisers and donations. The investment proves to be worthwhile as a fine arts gem in the city of Alhambra. For more information or to donate to the theater, please visit mkhs.myschoolcentral.com.

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