Friday, April 4, 2008
From the Barnstable Patriot
KATHLEEN SZMIT PHOTO-THE SWEET SMELL OF RECOGNITION – Joyce Arlington poses amidst 50 red roses and a commemorative plaque honoring her for starting the Barnstable High School Drama Club in 1958. Arlington was recognized following intermission of the opening night performance of The Wizard of Oz.
BHS Drama Club creator takes center stage
Written by Kathleen Szmit
Joyce Arlington’s idea a major force 50 years later
When Joyce Arlington sparked the idea to create a drama club at Barnstable High School in 1958, she had no clue that it would become the revered organization it is today.
On last week’s opening night of The Wizard of Oz, the BHS Drama Club’s spring production, Arlington was recognized in a special mid-show ceremony.
Following intermission, Shakespeare teacher Ed O’Toole called Arlington onstage where each of the five main characters of the play, including Toto, presented her a bouquet of 10 red roses, one for each year of the club’s existence.
O’Toole offered praise to Arlington for her contribution to the school, noting the thousands of students who have benefited from participating in the club through the years.
Arlington, who has attended club shows through the years, wasn’t expecting the attention.
“It was a total, total surprise,” she said, noting that it was research conducted by O’Toole and others that revealed her role as founder of the original club.
“It was 1958 and we had moved from High School Road to West Main, our first year in the new big school,” Arlington said in a phone interview this week. “I was a junior. I had come to Barnstable from off-Cape, so I was at the old school a year and the new school a year.”
Because Arlington was not drawn to sports or the clubs that existed at the time, she longed for an activity that would fit her needs while possibly appealing to other students as well.
“I think there were a couple of things that inspired me to start the club,” she said. “I had this dream that maybe I could be an actress, and I wanted to belong. I wanted to do something that I could be a part of.”
Arlington went to Principal Briah K. Connor about the idea of starting a drama club.
“He said, ‘Go find yourself an advisor’ and he’d support it,” said Arlington.
The club’s first advisor was Elliot McSwan, a BHS teacher who acted in amateur theatrical shows at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in summers.
“I felt that Mr. McSwan would be a good advisor because he had that interest,” Arlington said.
Unfortunately, Arlington learned during auditions for the club’s first show that her acting skills were, ahem, not up to snuff.
“My own acting career kind of fizzled,” she said. “I had my first tryout and I was so nervous I couldn’t speak the words. But I am a born organizer. I love to start things and bring people together. I have a knack for seeing the big picture. I definitely was behind the scenes.”
Although Arlington’s acting career never took off, life offstage has been busy for the Dennisport resident. Following graduation, she attended college and ultimately earned her masters in nursing, working since 1973 as a nurse practitioner, first through New England Baptist Hospital, and now at Preventative Medical Associates in Yarmouth.
An avid traveler, Arlington has visited Europe, been a self-proclaimed ski-bum in Colorado, and with friends even chaperoned the first US Olympic luge team.
Arlington returned to Cape Cod in 1994 during what she quietly called a “dark period” of divorce and illness.
“I came to visit my aunt,” she said. “I came for a weekend and never left.”
Upon returning to the Cape, Arlington reconnected with classmates from the BHS class of ‘59.
“We’re all very tight,” she said. “We’re a very close class.”
Back in her high school days, Arlington became secretary of the drama club, which in 1958 and 1959 had one production a year, then known as the Senior Show.
It was only recently that Arlington realized how big her little idea had grown.
“I have to admit that I was in total shock,” she said. “I had heard people talk about the Drama Club, but I never realized it was as big as it was. I’ve known that it’s been involved, but I had no idea how involved.”
Arlington was impressed to learn that shows occur year-round, with two major productions a year, a Shakespeare play, and Shakespeare and family theatre in the summer.
“We had 20 kids in 1959,” she said, marveling at the 300-plus cast of The Wizard of Oz.
What impressed Arlington in the 1950’s was that, although the club was small, students from all classes tried out for shows.
“What was evident in our first production was that we got kids from all the classes to try out, not just one class,” she said. “That was a little taste of what was to come.”
Arlington credits Drama Club head John Sullivan for helping the program to flourish.
“It started to develop under [Jim Ruberti] and John really started flying with it. He brought his artistic talent to it,” she said. “He brings a lot of connections to the Drama Club and reaches so many people.”
Arlington also offered kudos to O’Toole for his involvement with the Shakespeare productions.
“They are the proof of the importance of teachers and how important it is that they care about kids,” she said.
On opening night Sullivan took Arlington to the “old auditorium” (Knight Hall) and caught her up on the club’s history. Arlington also talked with technical director Steve Bearse and costume designer Karen Mannal.
Arlington enjoyed meeting the folks that came up to her following the show to thank her for creating the club.
“I just realized the extent to which the Drama Club has reached people,” she said. “I’m still absorbing the whole thing, by the way.
“The club just makes me happy because kids are our biggest resource. Children: raising them, caring for them and their education is most important. I see what kids get in trouble with out in the world and I wish there were more places for kids to go. This is meeting a real need. I know how it touches lives and how important it is.”
So what did the founder of the Drama Club think of its 50th anniversary production?
“It was fabulous,” she said. “I loved how Broadway it was. It’s amazing to me!”
Although Arlington doesn’t generally make a big deal about the drama club being her brainchild, she deeply appreciated the recognition.
“I’m thrilled and I have to say a little proud,” she said. “And amazed that they would give me that recognition. It was a sweet, sweet joy.”
Posted by bhsdc at 10:46 AM