Growing up, and older, in and on stages

by John Pixley | Special to the Courier

“I hate high school.”

We were driving into the parking lot of Claremont High School. What I really meant was that I hate the speed bumps in the high school’s parking lot, remembering the quote I once read in a senior wills — senior wills! How high school! — edition of the Wolfpacket: “College is high school without the speed bumps.”

Despite some mixed feelings about my days at CHS and despite feeling a bit weird about still going there and seeing all those awkwardly young, not-so-young kids where I was in a similar awkward state some 40 years ago, I was there to offer support and admire some good work being done. I was being dropped off one Friday evening last month to see the latest production at the school’s theater.

I don’t attend the football games or other sports events at the school, but I do cheer on the “theater kids.” While this play, “Rumors of Polar Bears” by Brian Dorf about teenagers wandering in an environment decimated by climate change, wasn’t my cup of tea, I am more and more thankful for this program for offering a safe and stimulating space for these kids who may not fit into the sports and pep scene.

And it’s great to see that after 60 years and, remarkably, just two directors, the work is now being carried on, capably, by Mohammed Mangrio. He was a student of Krista Elhai’s at Hemet High School before she came to Claremont to start a 27-year run as theater director. She was beloved, demanding, and tireless, and took the baton from the legendary Don Fruechte, who founded the school’s theater program and for whom the renovated theater is named.

On the way home that evening, going down College Avenue and noting how Pomona College was decked out for commencement that weekend, I didn’t say I didn’t like the colleges’ graduation ceremonies, but I did find myself thinking of how they reminded me of something I didn’t like when I was doing theater work.

I didn’t take part in theater when I was in high school. No, my work in the theater came much later, and I loved it. What I loved most about working in theater was rehearsing. I loved creating a scene and working on it, working with others to make this happen, collaborating to bring a vision to life, and making it better and better. I loved this creating together, this collaboration.

When it came time for performances, I wouldn’t say they were a letdown, but I was always a bit sad, disappointed, yes, letdown, that the creating together was over.

Driving home past the commencement stage set up at Pomona College that night, it occurred to me, perhaps because I had just seen the high school “theater kids” in a play, that the colleges’ commencements are a bit like what I remember performances to be. Yes, they are something to cheer, something to be proud of, but, at least for us townees, all the fun, really good stuff is done. All the talks, concerts, plays and other presentations that had made our lives in Claremont all the richer over the past eight months are over.

I dare say the students have the same bittersweet feeling. They may not say so now, just glad to be done with all the hard work and that they’ve made it out alive and with a degree, but they will soon see how good, how rich, how, yes, fun all that hard work — all that learning and creating and collaborating with new friends and professors — was. And they’ll miss it.

Summer isn’t as sleepy — or dead, as I used to think — as it used to be in Claremont. (Or maybe those growing up now think Claremont is dead in the summer?) But still, decades later, summer is a quiet time, a down time, in Claremont. It is an invitation to reflect on the activities and accomplishments in the past months, whether at the colleges, in our schools or in our lives, and to take a breather and prepare for what’s next.


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