Celebrating 60 years of theater arts at Claremont High

Retired Claremont High School Theater Director Krista Elhai at her Claremont home on Wednesday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

By Michael Alden | Special to the Courier

“Back in the misty eons of time …” So begins the induction ceremony into the International Thespian Society, a dream for any middle or high school student in love with theater and the arts.

The International Thespian Society, now with over 2.4 million members, was founded in 1929 and remains a mainstay for student artists around the world. To be a member, you must earn a certain amount of thespian “points.” Points are earned by participating in your school’s theater productions and completing one or more of the many associated jobs necessary for the show to proceed.

I had earned the required number of points to qualify for membership in my sophomore year at Claremont High. In the spring of 1972, the ceremonial gavel came down and I officially became a member of Thespian Troupe 2129, joining fellow classmates on a journey that would change all our lives.

Our teacher, Mr. Don F. Fruechte, who created the theater arts department at CHS 60 years ago, would often start a class or rehearsal by quoting Shakespeare: “There are no small parts, only small actors!” he would bellow.  None of us wanted to be thought of as small, so we did the jobs we were given and rejoiced in the productions we created as a team. Little did we know that as Thespians we were not only building shows, but we were also building bonds that would last a lifetime.

Retired Claremont High School Theater Director Krista Elhai at her Claremont home on Wednesday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

When Covid struck, my high school chum Marcy called me out of the blue. We had not seen each other in 40 years, so it was more than a surprise. “Mike, do you keep in touch with any of our theater department alums?” she asked, to which I responded, “Actually, I do.”

My thespian relationships created a family for me that I did not find at home. I stayed in close contact whenever I could. Marcy said, “Wouldn’t it be great to get a few of us together on a Zoom call?” I said, “Absolutely!”

Once again, the ceremonial gavel came down and less than three weeks after the world shuttered, we had our first “alum chum Zoom.” Me in New York; Marcy in Portland; Kathy, Alisa, Laura and Krista in Claremont; Kathee in Monrovia; George in Kentucky; David in Seattle; Susan in Colfax, California; Tanya in Oakland; Rob in Maine; Anne in Wisconsin; Randy in Pittsburgh; Jayne in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Tom in San Diego; Laurie in Tucson; Marty in Pasadena; Gina in Port Orchard, Washington; Shaelynn in Mexico; Arthur in Brooklyn; Roselle also in Seattle; and Michelle in Vienna. We were all back together as if no time had passed, though for most it had been close to 50 years.

On April 7 we will be entering our fourth year of weekly calls. We initially shared life’s moments, then conversations about living in a world according to a pandemic and the post-traumatic challenges we knew would come.

As restrictions lifted some of us traveled to cheer on new stage works at David’s theater in Seattle, christened Kathy’s youth theater in Claremont, celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, new love affairs, engagements, and as always, we have come together in times of loss.

Claremont High School Theater Director Mohammad Mangrio pictured in February. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Back in our misty eons of time, we might have felt that we each played a small part in each other’s lives. But in reality, the part we played for each other was enormous, for we served as each other’s witnesses of those first steps toward independence and independent thinking.

We have become actors, doctors, lawyers, teachers, directors, singers, producers, designers, moms, dads, uncles, aunts and yes, grandparents. Our weekly alum chum Zooms — 107 to date — remind us of the incredible foundation we were given by getting an education in the arts and the opportunity to fall in love with the theater.

We stood strong on the platform built by Don Fruechte. We cheered on Krista Elhai, who took the reigns in 1993, and as the ceremonial gavel comes down once again at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 15, we will officially welcome Mohammad Mangrio, who will now carry forward the torch that has burned bright since, well, back in the misty eons of time.

Play well your parts.  Even the small ones.

More information is at onthestage.tickets/show/claremont-high-school.

Claremont High alumnus (’74) Michael ‘Krieger’ Alden is a feature film and theater producer. After working as an executive at Cannon Films, Pathe, and MGM Studios in the 1980s, he moved to New York in 1990. He returned to Southern California in 2021 and lives in Palm Springs.


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