After directing 23 musicals in as many years, it's time for a final curtain call for Troy Middle School Drama Director and teacher Wayne Barry.
Barry retires at the end of this school year, but not before his students had their final performance of "Beauty and the Beast" a few weeks ago.
Barry was hired to start the middle school drama class, part of a 12-week exploratory program all students participate in during 7th grade. That was back when Troy Middle School was in the Troy Crossroads building.
His first production, "The Wizard of Oz," was done in one big room on a flat carpeted slab; no stage, no auditorium seating. Over time they built out platforms to give more space for the actors. Scenery changes were challenging because there were no curtains to close or go behind. But they made it work by designing foldable sets with different scenes on each panel.
When the middle school building opened in 2002, the drama department bloomed. Barry loves special effects so musicals had flash pots and fog machines, live dogs graced the stage in both a second rendition of "The Wizard of Oz" and "Annie," actors flew across the stage on wires in "Peter Pan" and the balloon the wizard used to escape from Oz raised to the rafters with a hydraulic lift.
Barry loves making a difference in the lives of his students. Taking a drama class adds so much more to a child's life – it's a chance to use other skills like math and science for set designs, to learn about the technical side of lighting and sound, it causes students to use critical thinking skills and best of all, helps them to create long lasting friendships.
"I try to instill life skills they can take into any career," Barry said. "This builds confidence."
And if a student finishes the course and finds a lifelong love of theatre, that's icing on the cake.
While Barry teaches seventh-grade students, he always invites some sixth-grade students to participate in his shows. It gives them a chance to work on their skills for the next year or find out if drama is for them.
Barry also makes sure that special needs kids are included in his musicals; everyone gets a chance to participate.
"I never like to turn a student away, it does so much for them and their self-esteem," he said.
While Barry is retiring from a total of 36 years of teaching, he certainly won't be sitting idle. His plans include traveling, taking a class in voice over to do radio, which he's done in the past, and perhaps starting a community theatre program right in Shorewood.
Barry chose "Beauty and the Beast" for his final work at Troy Middle School before the newest movie even came out. He chose it because it relates to all audiences, plus the costumes and scenery had so much potential.
After the final performance, he got a standing ovation from students, staff and family and two special cakes from the parents.
Despite long, late night rehearsals and hard work on sets, Barry has always loved what he does and the students he has worked with.
He loves creating magic on stage and with costumes; and has worked with some amazing student actors.
"I love theatre," he said. "Getting to work your passion and do what you love, it doesn't seem like it's really work sometimes."
• Kris Stadalsky writes about people and issues in areas southwest of Joliet. Reach her at email@example.com.