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Morrison to direct spring show, students start petition for Alera
April 10, 2018
This year’s fall and spring theater productions have and will be directed by Fine and Performing Arts teacher Maura Morrison; for the first time in seven years, English teacher Thomas Alera will not be directing any productions.
Alera’s lack of involvement has prompted some students to create online petition with over 720 signatures in favor of Alera directing a theater production in the future.
“I love directing, I love the kids, I love the school and community, so hopefully in the future I will be involved,” Alera said. “I miss it.”
Although the change of directors has caused backlash, the process for selecting a director was fair, formal and standard, according to principal Dr. Sara Pragluski Walsh. They used the same interviewing process as they do with all other positions within the school.
This was the first year the Spring Musical director position was posted as accepting applications for an advisor; before, it was an appointed position, according to Algonquin Regional Teachers’ Association president Gina Johnston.
“We set up a committee, and the committee appointed the applicant to me,” Walsh said. “The process has to be very structured…The committee has to ask all of the applicants the same questions and then they would decide in their discussion who was the strongest candidate, and send them forward. They sent one applicant forward to me–the strongest candidate–and that candidate was sent on to the superintendent.”
Despite not being offered a role as the sole director, Alera was later given an opportunity to work alongside Morrison to collaborate on a production, but declined the offer, according to Alera and Walsh.
“There’s always different visions and certain ways of going about things and expectations that directors have,” Alera said. “There is nothing wrong with collaboration…It’s a world of collaboration, but there still has to be someone who manages that ship and keeps it on track. I think it’s hard to have two. So I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
According to Walsh, collaboration and student involvement were goals when choosing the directors for this year’s productions.
“We made sure that everyone is welcome to collaborate, like, please come help,” Walsh said. “We need collaboration here at Algonquin.”
Despite the routine selection process that resulted in Morrison as director, according to senior Sophia Kostiw and junior Nick Hatton, some students miss Alera, and would like him to have the opportunity to direct a musical in the future.
On March 6, Kostiw started a petition in hopes that Alera can direct theater again, published it on change.org, and began to spread it to friends through text messages.
“It’s basically just to get Mr. Alera back the position he already had,” Kostiw said. “He is now doing nothing when he has been putting on award winning shows for the past couple years.”
The petition states, “[Alera’s] passion for theatre, knowledge of the art and devotion is unparalleled. He has touched the lives of hundreds of students, past and present in immeasurable ways. His impact to the Algonquin community is and has been beyond compare,” and as of April 5, has over 725 online signatures.
“[The petition has] been going much better than any of us really expected,” Hatton said. “And we’ve been getting some of the nicest comments about him as a person, not even just as a director, but just as a person, from alumni, from students, from parents. It’s been pretty unbelievable just to see all the support.”
According to Alera, theater is an important part of his life, and the student support and petition are very meaningful to him.
“I found out about it and it was really just surreal,” Alera said. “I guess I was pretty honored and pretty touched, and I guess they’re really trying to use their student voices, which was very powerful to me.”
Not all students involved in the theater program support this petition.
“I don’t know, I feel like it’s kind of unnecessary,” senior and ‘Legally Blonde’ cast member Kevin Jacobson said.
Morrison declined to comment on the controversy surrounding the change of directors.
Despite the petition, administration has upheld their decision to have Morrison direct the upcoming spring musical according to Kostiw, who met with Walsh about the petition in mid March.
“She said she valued all of our voices, but she didn’t want to look at it all,” Kostiw said. “She said they’d already decided what’s going to happen with the theater department this year, and so she doesn’t really know why this is happening.”
“It’s sad to me, especially with everything going on in the news right now with student empowerment and getting students to voice their opinions and create change, that we’re being suppressed and that our voices aren’t being listened to,” Hatton said. “As a student, in a building controlled by your superiors, the fact that your voice doesn’t matter is, to me, the worst feeling that I’ve ever felt.”
However, Walsh feels that her meetings with students about the theater productions have been productive when Algonquin’s standard employment rules and requirements are taken into consideration.
“Within the societal constraints and with the resources we have, I think we did really really well,” Walsh said in response to Hatton’s comment. “If Nick [Hatton] wanted to come talk to us on how we could still feel like he could have certain individuals still be directors…we could brainstorm. We could do a summer production so that everyone could participate. It’s sad that he feels that way, but I hope he can become aware that in over the several meetings that we had, we actually met almost every single goal.”
Although Kostiw and Hatton both say they loved working with Morrison during the fall musical, some students and faculty members believe that the petition is unfair to her.
“I feel bad for Morrison, because anything that’s like for Alera is kind of automatically against Morrison,” Jacobson said. “She really cares about the program, so anything against her, I obviously don’t agree with it. I love Alera, I’ve done plays under him, but if you don’t get the job, you don’t get the job, you know? You can’t just make a petition.”
“It was really hurtful for someone who has done so much for students at this school and staff members at this school,” Social Studies teacher Katie Salt said. “When anyone asks Ms. Morrison to help, she always says yes, and she’s always the go-to for everyone….It was shocking to see something that was indirectly aimed at her.”
The student organizers of the petition and Alera did not intend for this petition to be hurtful to anyone, according to Kostiw, Hatton and Alera.
“The fact that people are trying to put words in our mouths and saying that we’re trying to bash Ms. Morrison hurts me because she’s meant so much to me as well,” Hatton said.
“I think it’s more about the event and the process, probably, more than any kind of a person,” Alera said. “I think it’s just an opportunity to do something, if that makes sense.”
Despite the intent, some argue that the outcome of the petition is overwhelmingly negative.
“I can’t speak for [the petition organizers’] motivations or their intent, but I know what the outcome is, and it’s hurtful,” Social Studies teacher Stephen Godbout said. “Inevitably, it elevates one staff member at the expense of another.”
Godbout also expressed concern over the validity of the statements in the petition.
“I think that there are, at best, misleading things that have been posted on this and on the comment section,” Godbout said. “A lot of the information that drove this petition is based on opinion, but not facts.”
“If I had applied for a position and was not selected for that position, and this type of thing was circulated in support of me, I would be humiliated by it and insist it be taken down,” Godbout said. “Anyone with integrity would insist that it be taken down because it hurts another staff [member].”
Despite the petition, Morrison will be directing the Spring musical, “Wegmans The Musical 2.0,” and many students and faculty members are excited to see the production come together.
“[‘Legally Blonde’] was a sensation,” Godbout said. “I’m sure Ms. Morrison and the kids are gonna nail it!”