Teachers upstage students - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Teachers upstage students

Most students in backstage roles for Ironwood Ridge’s ‘Sweeney Todd’

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Posted: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:02 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Perched upon a wooden platform, the Ironwood Ridge High School drama teacher works on an ejector chair, the focal point of the school’s production of “Sweeney Todd.”

Below, about a dozen paintbrush-wielding teens slap paint on a storefront set.

“It’s high school,” Joe Borunda said surveying the auditorium. “I’m not going to produce something terribly racy.”

Just in case, teachers make up all the players save for one in this bloody tale of revenge.

The play, adapted from a 19th Century serial, charts the demise of family man-turned-psychopathic killer, Sweeney Todd.

With the help of an evil partner, Todd murders scores of unsuspecting Londoners in his upstairs barbershop, while his accomplice awaits downstairs to bake their flesh into meat pies.

That’s where the ejector chair comes in.

Borunda began work on the play late last term. He sent word to his colleagues that he planned to put on the production and wanted them in the cast.

More than 40 teachers responded.

Now, just two weeks before the curtain goes up, about 13 teachers and one student will grace the stage.

Students and drama club members will work the technical and production aspects of the play.

“I wanted more community with the teachers,” Borunda said of his choice to have teachers in the production.

His fellow educators also have felt that sense of community.

“When teaching, you’re in your own universe,” Matt Scrivner said.

The literature teacher said he’s gotten to know many of his co-workers on a more personal level since joining the production.

Scrivner plays the title role.

 Still, a controversy from three years ago likely factored into the decision to cast teachers as much as building a community of colleagues.

School administrators in 2005 pulled the plug on an all-student production long before opening day.

Students had planned a performance of “Cannibal! The Musical,” but school officials and some parents took offense at the play’s vulgarity, violence and man-eating storyline.

Trey Parker of “South Park” fame wrote the play, which he based on the real-life account of a westward expedition gone wrong. The voyage ultimately ended in cannibalism.

Since then, Borunda said he’s gained a reputation for embracing dark themes.

Last year, the drama club put on a production of “Dracula,” to the dismay of some community members.

“Some parents said that we were promoting the occult,” Borunda said.

Now in his fifth year at Ironwood Ridge, the young teacher said he understands the need to respect the wishes of the school community, but still doesn’t fully understand all the uproar.

“It’s art. It’s done tastefully,” Borunda said.

Fellow-teacher Scrivner agreed.

“I think it’s important to teach kids the value of free speech in a society,” Scrivner said.

Last year, Scrivner took a group of students to see a production of the Shakespearian tragedy “Titus Andronicus.”

“There was so much blood they had to mop it up between scenes,” Scrivner said.

For “Sweeney Todd,” Borunda said he plans to keep the gore to manageable levels.

Water and red lighting will keep the violence stylized and under control, instead of buckets full of red-dyed corn syrup.

Scrivner’s booming voice and over-the-top cadence make up the rest in the semi-campy production.

“We’re trying to play it serious, to some extent,” he said.

Teacher Sharon Singer, who plays Todd’s partner-in-crime, Mrs. Lovett, thinks Scrivner nails the role.

“We all try to put on these English accents, but he doesn’t even bother,” Singer said.

She described Scrivner’s version of Todd as crazy, a perfect fit for the outrageous role.

In 2005, Singer’s son Zachary was the force behind the “Cannibal!” controversy.

Theatrics seem to run in the family. Singer’s daughter Caitlin also had a role in the cancelled-production three years ago.

The history teacher also dabbled in drama in her youth, but admits to being a little rusty.

“This is the first time in 25 years that I’ve had to memorize lines,” Singer said.

With the tempest that surrounded “Cannibal!” long past, even one of the school administrators has gotten in on the act.

Assistant Principal Rex Scott plays the part of Alfredo Pirelli, a scam artist and former associate of the murderous barber.

Unfortunately, Pirelli meets his demise at the hands of Todd.

Perhaps just a bit of poetic justice for the drama teacher.

Sweeney Todd

WHEN:     7 p.m., Oct. 2 and 3

WHERE:    Ironwood Ridge High School, 2475 W. Naranja Drive

COST:     $6 adults, $5 seniors and students; proceeds benefit the Ironwood Ridge Theatre Scholarship

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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