Students at Central Valley High School are hard at work building a castle for the upcoming production of “Once Upon a Mattress.”
“It’s probably one of the biggest sets we’ve built,” theater director Mike Muzatko said.
But it’s not just another extracurricular activity. For some, it’s a class with a grade.
For the past two and a half years, Central Valley has included a career and technical education class called technical theater. Muzatko is the teacher. In order to graduate, students must take at least two classes, which equal one credit, of career and technical education.
Once called vocational classes, CTE classes have grown in many ways over the past several years. CTE director Susan Christiansen said classes must have state-approved content, align with state academic standards, incorporate leadership skills and be reviewed by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction every four years.
The class must also have a teacher with CTE certification, which includes experience outside the classroom.
“CTE instructors must have had industry-based experience,” she said.
For Muzatko, that meant completing his certification at Eastern Washington University and documenting 6,000 hours of professional experience.
Christiansen said Muzatko’s class is one of about three certified CTE theater classes in the state.
“There aren’t very many,” she said.
Along with the class that meets during the school day, there are other students who work behind the scenes after school. These students can receive either fine arts credit or CTE credit. These students run the show during performances – Muzatko said he sits in the back of the theater to watch the show.
Christiansen said students learn skills they need to find jobs outside of school. In the Spokane area, students can go on to part-time jobs at the Spokane Arena, the INB Performing Arts Center, the Spokane Civic Theatre and Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d’Alene. Theaters are often looking for people who can work in stage support – fixing costumes or working the lights and sound mixers.
Muzatko said one student who has moved on to college designed and printed the newest production’s posters.
This month is CTE Recognition Month throughout the state. At the last school board meeting, students from Muzatko’s class gave the board a presentation about what they do in technical theater.
Spencer Cole, a senior who has been involved in the tech crew for all four years of high school, said he was interested in the class because he wanted to be involved in theater.
“I didn’t quite want to step onstage as an actor,” he said. During his presentation to the board, he told them an average of 90 technical theater students and 80 actors go through the program every year. He also noted the improvements to the facility the students have made.
“Through CTE funding and ticket sales, our theater has made over $100,000 worth of upgrades to the original technology in the facility,” he said, mentioning the theater’s lighting system, improvements to the sound and light boards, fog machines, a snow machine, glitter cannons, wireless headsets, moving lights, a glitter curtain and a star curtain.
He said his experience makes him want to explore working in general construction.
Emily Boynton, a junior, said her sister got her interested in technical theater.
“I enjoy art and being creative,” she said of why she entered the program. She told the board about the professionals students get a chance to work with, such as costumers.
“For the current production, ‘Once Upon a Mattress,’ all the costumes are being built from scratch to fit each actor or actress specifically. The crew helps out with maintaining and laundering the costumes while performing small alterations and repairs and pulling items from the costume shop,” she told them.
Zac Brommer is a junior who joined the class after seeing the production of “Singing in the Rain.” He said he has appreciated learning about lighting and audio and was impressed at how “we build these sets so fast.” He called what they do “rodeo construction.”
“I had no clue what I was getting into,” he said.