When cutbacks reduced the music budget at Sycamore Ridge School in San Diego three years ago, it looked like the end for the school’s theater program. Then two parents decided the show must go on.

Lisa Blazer and Victoria Shoushtari turned to the PTA for help, requesting a few hundred dollars to license the rights to a children’s play and cover incidentals to get a new drama club off the ground. The PTA was happy to pitch in, says Blazer, who steps up as PTA president this year in addition to being one of the chairs of the drama club.

These days, the PTA-sponsored Sycamore Ridge Drama Club brings together dozens of children and parents who work side by side for months during the school year to produce an annual play. They’ve done school versions of The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, and, most recently, Aladdin. The club has become popular enough that it is self-supported through ticket sales. Along the way, a strong sense of community has grown as both children and parents develop new friendships and share a common goal.

“The kids love it,” says Jen Marchese-Ernst, a PTA executive board member and a drama club chair. “It is something everyone looks forward to.”

The club requires nearly a full-year commitment from families. It starts with weekly one-hour rehearsals in fall. Weeks are increasingly hectic in spring, including multiple rehearsals, completing the set, organizing props, renting costumes, and selling tickets. But the payoff is huge. The club has become a tradition at Sycamore. Children in grades 4 through 6 can participate, so the younger children look forward to their turn. And since the program is free, kids whose families can’t afford private theater lessons are given a chance to perform.

What’s more, Marchese-Ernst says the experience helps the children build self-esteem. “Every year, we have a child who doesn’t think this is something they can do, and then it clicks,” she says. “It gives them a sense of confidence.”

The drama club chairpeople have divided responsibilities based on their strengths. Blazer, a former teacher, runs the business end, overseeing volunteers, communicating with administrators, and scheduling rehearsals. Marchese-Ernst, Shelly Yeager, and Pam Hunter, who all have professional theater backgrounds, handle the directing, choreography, and stage management. Blazer attributes much of the success of this program to these “pros,” who have inspired kids and adults with their passion for theater.

Marchese-Ernst notes, however, that parents can run a drama club without having worked in theater. She recommends that parents visit community children’s theater performances to get more of a feel for a production and then select a simple, well-known play as a first production.

Beyond the core team, a few dozen parent volunteers are essential to make the program work. The chairpeople hold a parent meeting at the start of the school year and request that each parent with a child participating in the club help in some way. So far, this approach has worked and parents have stepped up to use their skills in a variety of ways, from handling the lighting during the show to creating a website to promote the event.

It’s important to seek out talent wherever it might be. Blazer says that when the club started, she had zero experience with theater. So she didn’t hold back and asked everyone for help. “As soon as we put it out there, we were pleasantly surprised at the skills and interest and background that existed in our community,” she says.

“There’s a whole dynamic of the family that the cast becomes,” Marchese-Ernst adds. “What the kids love the most is the friendships they make.”

Sycamore Ridge School PTA

San Diego
450 students, grades K-6

Sycamore Ridge Drama Club

Drama Production Timeline

Summer: Chairpeople get together and select a play.

September: Hold a parent meeting. Give an overview of the play, discuss time commitments, and ask for volunteers.

End of September: Hold auditions. All children who try out get a role (including many in the chorus or as townspeople, for example).

First week of October: Start rehearsals.

October through winter break: Continue rehearsals on a weekly basis.

First week of November: Meet with parents handling props and set pieces to get organized and set a schedule. Send out requests for prop donations.

January: Increase rehearsals to twice a week, if needed. Post a sign-up form for stage crew volunteers.

First week of February: Begin ticket sales.

February through one week prior to the show: Add rehearsals as needed. Hold a Saturday rehearsal for the full cast a week before the show.

Early March: Give stage crew their assignments. Continue ticket sales.

End of March: Showtime!