Notes from the Director

"Attempt to leave the world just a bit better place because of your existence"

The programs for the plays Dwain Johnson directed featured notes written by the director. The earliest program note I have is from 1955 and it is a Hitchcockean announcement that there would be no intermission "entertainment" to preserve the integrity of the experience. As the years passed, these notes became more formal. They were re-titled "Notes from the Director" and they allowed Mr. J to indulge in some refection, humor and philosophical musing. Placed in chronological order as I've done here, you see the evolution of the young teacher to the seasoned professional. His aspirations and ideals are clearly visible. The two standout entries came from Cyrano de Bergerac and his final production, Arsenic and Old Lace.

Thankfully, all of the "Notes from the Director" that Mr. J himself saved were digitally transcribed and posted months before the fire that would destroy my home. I'm grateful to have every piece he personally saved but am always interested in finding more. If anyone reading this has a copy of a program not included here, please reach out to me.

Navigate to specific notes by using the menu icon in the upper, right-hand corner of this page.

The Night of January 16th

Staples High School, 1955

You are witnessing the trial of Karen Andre. You will please rise when the judge enters the court room and in other ways observe the dignity ot the court. There will be no entertainment between acts so you will be able to discuss the merits of the case with your friends at that time.

The Doctor In Spite Of Himself

John Marshall High School, 1961

Surprisingly, there is little Moliere tradition in modern American theatre. This is, perhaps, because his plays frequently lose much of their theatrical value when translated from French into English and from the eighteenth century into modern times.

Bernard Hewitt's translation appears to have solved both these problems adequately. Although the translation is not literal, it does succeed in bringing us the mad spirit of Moliere without burdening this spirit with artificial dialogue.

"The Doctor In Spite of Himself" has introduced our cast to a new experience in "pure" acting and familiarized them with the rigorous diciplines of what we in rehearsal have come to call "controlled chaos." If the actors appear to demonstrate a disregard for the concepts of modern, realistic theatre, we will be happy. This did not just happen but it is the result of a carefully conceived plan. If you see a moral or message in our show, we have failed. Our objective in preparing this play was to have fun. We sincerely hope the audience will share this objective with us.

The Cat and the Canary

John Marshall High School, 1961

In any dramatic program there eventually comes a time when an old fashioned mystery-melodrama seems to be the "right" show to give. We suspect that that time has arrived.

Because a mystery loses much of its appeal when it is repeated, the supply of mysteries with literary value is limited. The true mystery lover, however, finds little time to be concerned with this. He is too busy enjoying the thrill and excitement of letting his imagination carry him to the precipice of disaster and then snatching him back at the last moment. We will try to make a literary contribution another time but tonight join us in the old fashioned fun of being just plain scared.

The Wizard of Oz

John Marshall High School, 1961

All too often the younger children are the neglected audience in American Theatre. This is unfortunate because they are an expecially good audience and constitute an exacting challenge to the cast and crew.

Theatre for children demands that the show be "true". They will not be fooled by false expression of emotions (as any parent knows). The actors, then, must portray a fairy tale with a truth and sincerity that is an invaluable learning experience for the students involved with the production.

Any theatrical production wants and appreciates a responsive audience and no audience will generate this response like a group of children.

Therefore, we wish to dedicate this show to a great group of young people - our audience.

Charles Rudkin
Dwain Johnson

Dark Victory

John Marshall High School, 1962

Serious drama is an integral part of any dramatic program. Past experience has indicated that high school students do not only want comedies, but that they can and do appreciate a show with a serious message.

A group of young actors can attain a new concept of themselves when they are asked to vicariously experience and demonstrate traumatic, emotional responses beyond their own experience. As the characterization develops, so must maturity.

We feel quite strongly that, in addition to entertainment, the moral value of this play can be transfered to the audience. Theatre was designed to entertain, but, if it can teach as well, its value has been enhanced.

We believe that this is a highly moral play. We believe that the lessons it teaches are consistant with the ethical principles which have guided our world from the beginning.

If the casual observer is impressed with the worldliness of the show, we ask him to look again and see how the worldly parts become an integral part of the evaluation of a highly moral concept. If the preceeding paragraphs have misled you, let us remind you again that you have come to enjoy yourself. We sincerely hope that we can do our part in making your evening a success.


John Marshall High School, 1962

The observation has frequently been made that we in educational theater need not be as concerned about the success of our productions as other theater groups because our obligation is to educate rather than to entertain. Fortunately, many of us feel that this is not true.

In these formative years of a student's life, he is going to demand recognition by society. School activities are designed to give students this attention they need in a socially acceptable manner. Theater is particularly helpful because we are in a position to use almost all talents and abilities.

We feel that a basic factor in the operation of this educational process that the activity must culminate in success. Unless the student's positive efforts bring him success, it can not satisfy his needs.

When approximately 125 students cooperatively combine their varied talents and abilities to produce a successful product, the educational values appear to be unquestionable.

In short, we need your approval and hope you can honestly give it.

The Crucible

John Marshall High School, 1962

There have been those who have questioned the advisability of selecting a play as ambitious as The Crucible for high school students. The point is well taken. The contention is that once the students are confronted with an acting experience that is out of the realm of their real-life experiences, they are being forced into an artificial situation that cannot produce a satisfactory show or a worthwhile learning experience.

The other side of the case also has merit, "There can be value from an artifical situation," says the opposition. "In fact, this concept forms the foundation for most of our accepted educational processes."

Although we recognize the merit of both contentions, we tend to feel that the combination of good literature and dedicated students will and has in this case produced an invaluable learning experience. Whether or not this combination can produce entertaining theatre is a question you can answer for yourself after we have submitted our case.

Li'l Abner

John Marshall High School, 1963

"Why was Li'l Abner selected for production this year?" This question has been asked of me several times since the selection was made. Certainly there are many shows available that have proven to be more popular. Other shows contain more familiar music. Many musicals have a story with more impact!

Actually, these statements in themselves have proven to be the very reasons why Li'l Abner has turned out to be an excellent choice for our production this year.

There are shows available that contain within themselves an inherent guarantee of success because of their popularity, music, and story; but this success, when attained, is due largely to the abilities of the playwright and the composer.

Li'l Abner, on the other hand, presented us with a good basic script and a lot of potential if we were able to apply enough creativity to it.

We feel we have succeeded. Student enthusiasm from the beginning has been unbelievably high. Only about twenty percent of the two hundred and thirty students involved in the show has had previous theatrical experience of any kind, but their dedication has more than compensated for this deficiency.

Li'l Abner is a show of light bits and pieces. The humor is frequently slapstick (we hope). It is our sincere wish that these bits and pieces have entertainment value in themselves, and that they have been combined into a composite unit that will provide a most worthwhile evening for you the audience.

Our primary goal is to present a show that is basically fun. Our secondary goal is to eliminate all our own weaknesses. We feel secure that we have accomplished our primary objective, and hope we can accomplishlish the other.


John Marshall High School, 1964

People daring to try the presentation of a tragedy by a high school must be done in the face of the accepted fact that tragedy does not enjoy the popularity of a mystery or a comedy. This preference is certainly understandable, because it is in these areas that most students have established their standards of dramatic appreciation. A wealth of dramatic literature has conditioned them to look for humor or an exciting plot and they tend to judge tragedy by these standards rather than the standards for which tragedy was intended. If you want to be entertained tonight, don't look for laughs or a speculative plot because they are not in the show. Rather consider the play as an emotional experience. Permit yourself to feel the jealous madness of Medea, the futility of the nurse, the weakness of Jason, and all the others. Avoid the modern tendency to resist experiencing these emotions with the actors because in reality what you will be doing is resisting the entertainment value of the show. All of us associated with this show have been instilled with a strong feeling of humility in the face of such an imposing challenge. It is in this spirit of humility that we present this play for your approval. Whether we can adequately meet this challenge or not has not yet been determined, but surely there must be merit in a group of young people daring to try.

When preparing this play for your enjoyment, we planned a spectacular set, sensitive acting, moving music, and inspired direction but something always seemed to go wrong. If you are sensitive about the treatment of melodrama, we suggest you leave during the first act to avoid the rush. If you should recognize any similarity between our characters and someone you know, you have our sincere sympathy and a suggestion that you adopt some new friends. - DWAIN JOHNSON

P. S. Please do not throw vegetables at the actors. They are not hungry-- they always look that way.

The Miracle Worker

John Marshall High School, 1965

Each play, while in preparation, seems to develop its own characteristics and personality. For example, this show soon demonstrated that it had the ability to emotionally involve both cast and crew in such a way that they felt compelled to do their best and not to compromise in any way.

The preparation of a show of this type can become rather complex and as a result requires a variety of talents and efforts. Unfortunately these demands soon exceed the limited abilities of the director, and so we sought help wherever it could be found. This search for help took us to most of the departments of our school. Without exception our requests for help were met with cooperation and willingness to do what could be done. So, although our handbills list this play as a production of the dramatics department, it is really a production of the entire high school.

As a member of the general public or the student body not involved with this play, you may not be more than casually interested in inter-faculty cooperation if it were not for the implications of this cooperation on the educational process which justifies our existence. When a teacher demonstrates his willingness to give of his time and talents when and if the students ask for it, this attitude should clearly indicate that he is highly qualified for his job.

So we dedicate this show, that we feel is something special, to all those people who so unselfishly gave of themselves to make it possible.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Mayo High School, 1966

To my knowledge no study has ever been conducted to attempt to determine what constitutes a good play for high school productions. This does not, however, imply that there not a number of "experts" in the field. Unfortunately, these "experts" do not agree, and so those of us who must make a decision are left to follow our own devices.

We believe The Unsinkable Molly Brown to be an excellent choice. It is filled with life and vitality which is our most readily accessible commodity in high school. Also, this play gives us an opportunity to utilize a wider range of individual student's talents on the crews, as well as the cast, than most selections.

Most important, however, is the theme of this play. Students of high school age are, and rightly so, searching for a set of values to guide them through their adult life. We feel that this show has something worthwhile to say to all who are exposed to it, and by involving the students in this production we have communicated a message which could not have been transmitted as effectively any other way. We sincerely feel that these students will be better equipped to select a more realistic set of standards for themselves after an intensive study of "Molly Brown."

May we also recommend to you the production of The Sound of Music by Lourdes High School. The production dates are the 19, 20, and 21 of February.

Teahouse of the August Moon

Mayo High School, 1972

Welcome to The Teahouse of the August Moon. To those of you who have visited the teahouse before we hope our production can equal your expectations. To those of you who are seeing the play for the first time, may it become as pleasant a part of your theatrical memories as it has of ours.

We like what this piay has to say about attempts to impose one culture on another. We enjoy the anti-establishment philosophy -- particularly when it can be shared by both generations. But most of all, we appreciate a good laugh at some of our own and our country's past follies. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to avoid a few of them the next time around. This begins to sound like relevency, and from an "old" chestnut"! How about that!

We invite you to take a second look at the acknowledgements listed below. These people in their specific way have made a valuable contribution to your school. There are just enough uncooperative individuals and businesses to make us appreciate the helpful ones.

Our belated congratulations to the John Marshall and Lourdes' outstanding productions of My Fair Lady and Man of La Manche [sic]. If "good theatre leads to good theatre", we thank them for their contribution to our show.

Annie Get Your Gun

Mayo High School, 1972

As each show develops, it creates a unique personality for itself and "Annie" was no exception.

Seldom if ever have we approached a show with such a high degree of inexperience with the actors, the orchestra, and the crews. Rather than being a detriment, however, this same inexperience has supplied us with a freshness and enthusiasm beyond our expectations. We think this will show in our production.

Again, through the Mayo Booster's Club, we have seen the advantages of adults involving themselves with our high school theatre. We encourage any one of you who enjoys this sort of thing, to become a part of our activity. You will find yourself working for and with the high school students because it is their theatre, but those of us who have been doing that for years don't mind a bit.

Just a reminder - John Marshall is presenting Carnival next weekend, February 15, 16 and 17. We are sure you will enjoy their production of this entertaining show.

We hope you have fun tonight because that's what it's all about.

Detective Story

Mayo High School, 1973

The preparation of Detective Story has been a valuable study in citizen-police relationships for all of us concerned with the show. Not only are we more aware of the complexity of this relationship, but we were also confronted with the drastic changes that have taken place in the last thirty years in the attitudes of police and the community.

We are particularly grateful to the Rochester Police Department for the assistance and advice they have given us in an attempt to make not only procedures, but also attitudes, authentic. And a special "Thank you" to Patrolman Arthur Magruder for doing such an excellent job as a technical advisor.

We consider Detective Story a highly moralistic story and have attempted to present it in that way. Now we hope we can share some of the insights we have attained with you.

The posters represent the creative abilities of Mr. Dale Kohlstedt and Mr. Gary Anderson who are new members of our Art Department, and the set painting was done by Mr. Arthur Auer, a new member of the Speech Department. We welcome them and their talent.

David and Lisa

Mayo High School, 1974

I'm proud! I'm proud of this show!

I'm proud of this cast and crew who for the past six weeks have demonstrated a degree of self-discipline which would be the envy of any adult group I have known, in order to bring this show to production. Hardly the behavior of high school students we read about who are cynical of dedication and committed to their own sensual satisfactions.

I'm proud of Rik Svien, a 1971 Mayo High graduate, who so graciously donated his talent and time to compose the original music for this show. Not only did he create professional quality music, but he did it with an attitude that implied that we were doing him a favor by giving him the opportunity to help us. Hardly the behavior of the college student we read about who is primarily concerned with the ascendance of his own rights and welfare, and the descendance of the establishment.

I'm proud of Mr. Myron Bietz of our English Department who did our photography work for us without a thought of pay or credit, but only responded to the needs of the students. Hardly the behavior of the professional educator we read about who's first concern is for teacher's salaries and better working conditions.

I'm proud of six recent Mayo graduates who built the new lobby sign you saw tonight. Brian Kaihoi did the bulk of the project with the help of Duane Madson, but when time dictated that the job could not be completed, David Watson and Dan Oelslager picked up the project and completed it with the help of Rick Strehlow and Kevin Fjelstad. All this work was done after they graduated and at their own expense just so they could present it to me as a representative of the school. Hardly the behavior of the high school graduates we read about who accept their high school experience as something owed to them and that they are well rid of when it is completed.

I'm proud of the job John Marshall does with their shows and so I from the two high schools in town. This cooperation is no longer a matter of helpful incidents, but rather it has become a matter of mutual policy. Hardly the behavior of the rivals we read about who get as much pleasure from the other's failures as their own successes.

I'm proud of the job John Marshall does with their shows and so I strongly recommend that you plan to see Baker Street there next weekend.

Yes, I am proud. And it is this pride that will console me when our critics greet the efforts of our department with condescending platitudes based on a tolerant indifference. I know what we are attempting to do in the Mayo Theater Department and I am proud of the results.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Mayo High School, 1977

I'm striking back...!

I'm striking back at those people in theatre and elsewhere who have created realism to their own definition and then sworn allegiance to it.

I'm striking back at these people in theatre and elsewhere who act with such vigor to present their "honest" picture of the world to our younger generation so they "won't face disillusionment later."

I'm striking back at the people in theatre who create (and the audiences that accept) shock value as a substitute for talent.

I'm striking back at the premise that beauty is dishonest and only ugliness is honest.

I'm striking back at anyone who contends that theatre is relevant only if it brings to the stage those words which graphically describe bodily functions traditionally intended for the bedroom and the bathroom.

I'm striking back at anyone in the arts who teaches and promotes acceptance of such things as pollution and moral decay by consistently presenting them as reality.

Rather, we're striking forward -- !

We're striking forward with romantic idealism that teaches and promotes a desire to change from what we have to something better.

We're striking forward with the contention that the arts have an obligation to the culture that created them to show a direction by presenting an image of beauty and goodness.

We're striking forward with beauty and morality as honest characteristics of our universe even if they aren't always attained.

We're striking forward with a philosophy of faith in mankind and hope for the future that doesn't have to escape to a chemical security blanket.

We're striking forward with Cyrano de Bergerac. May a brief glimpse of life-as-we-would-want-it-to-be add a touch of pleasure to your life and remind you again to try a little harder so that life-as-it-is can perhaps be a bit better.


Mayo High School, 1980

Oklahoma gets its recognition for being the first true musical comedy from the unique working relationship between Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers. Prior to their time, the lyricist's job was to write the words for the music which had been written for the show. In their case, however, Hammerstein wrote words for the songs as an extension of the story and Rogers set them to music.

At another level, another unique working relationship has had its influence on this show and other musicals at Mayo. Although the production director must, theoretically, make the ultimate decisions, there has never been a time when Mr. Smith, as music director, and I have not acted on decisions on which we agree completely. This is a high adrenalin, high ego, activity and yet we have managed to work together in harmony since 1968.

Through these past 12 years I think I can honestly say (allowing for human error) that his priorities have, without exception, been: the welfare of the student first, the welfare of the show second, and his own crackpot ideas (compared to my brilliant ones) third.

Anyone who has worked with me on a show will attest to the fact that, during production, establishing a harmonious relationship with me is at best extremely difficult, and yet Mr. Smith, through his efforts and personality, has managed to do just that. I strongly suspect that his secret is ignoring me because I was angry with him for two weeks once and he didn't even notice.

I am most thankful for the many pleasurable experiences that have emerged from the directing team of "Smith and Johnson," but I still think it should be "Johnson and Smith."

Working with Bob Patnaude and Mary Slicho has been equally as pleasant, but time will tell whether they can "stand" me over the long haul.

I haven't mentioned the show because Oklahoma can speak for itself.


Mayo High School, 1980

IT FINALLY HAPPENED!! For years (and years) I have been doing either period plays or plays from my own time. Now I am doing both with the same play, and a whole new set of viewpoints have emerged.

I found some of these viewpoints extremely interesting and because they may be relevent to you as well as to me, I would like to share them with you.

For example, that highly entertaining "tippler" as we politely called drinks, was the source of much humor in the forties. Now some of the students objected to so many casual references to the serious matter of drinking, and some of it, not necessary to the story was cut. To one segment of young people, at least, drinking is not as funny as we once thought it was.

Another area of concern expressed by the actors was the "nuthouse" portrayal of the sanitarium. Again the actors were disturbed by the thought that we may offend someone who may need the services of such an institution for themselves or someone near to them. Good point! Although this is not the main thrust of the humor in Harvey it is again significant enough to make cutting extremely difficult if not impossible.

Our solution, then, was to portray the sanitarium and its staff with such a high degree of farce that no one would relate this institution with any real one in existance. We are convinced that we were successful.

I find it strangely comforting to realize that when the younger generation is laughing at some of my "sacred cows" that I also laughed at theirs. If both of us now can be wise enough to realize that neither of us has a monopoly on universal truth, and that we had better be considerate of each other's views until we find it.

In the meantime our sincerest wish for you all is that ifyou haven't already done so, that you will soon find your own "Harvey."

Bye, Bye Birdie

Mayo High School, 1981

A few months ago a new acquaintance of mine, when he became aware of my profession, considered what he had read in the papers and made the observation that he wouldn't work with the modern teenager for any amount of money because it "isn't safe." Following my usual reaction time, I am now ready to respond.

You are right, my friend, it isn't safe. It isn't safe because these young people are in a very sensitive time in their lives and can so easily be hurt by an unthinking and/or over-harried adult. And no one can relieve you of the guilt you must bear for your mistakes.

It isn't safe because every once in a while one of them gets the idea that the words you utter are jewels of wisdom, when you know they are only the ramblings of an unsure mind. The prospect that they may be guided by your babble is frightening.

It isn't safe because when you work with these young people they have a way of endearing themselves, and yet every June you see many of them for the last time. The future is their concern at that time and you become a part of their past-- as it should be. What you feel is your problem.

Birdie has been special to all of us, but for me it has been the most "unsafe" of all the musicals because my reactions will have to last me for a longer period of time.

Thank you, parents, for sharing your wonderful young people with us for this hectic while. We hope it has been mutually beneficial, but that is, after all, an unsafe assumption.


Mayo High School, 1981

Early in my directing career I invited my mother to attend the performance of a play I had directed. After the performance, expecting the inevitable maternal support, I asked her how she liked it and her answer was, "I thought it was real nice. Everyone remembered their lines so well."

This was not exactly the standard toward which I had been working, but my mother, bless her heart, was supporting me as best she could with the standard that she understood. Little did I realize at the time that, in one form or another, I was to be confronted with this same situation for the rest of my directing career.

High school theatre is and should be educational in a truer sense than at any other level of theatre. The whole art form is there to explore, and, to some degree, we determine the pleasure the students will attain from it for the rest of their lives. Also, because we deal with the students at a time when they are trying to establish their position in the social structure, they are particularly vulnerable.

Each student connected with the show brings to the experience a unique set of needs. Some we help, some we hurt, and some (for one excuse or another) we ignore.

Those we help give us, I suppose, the most meaningful rewards in our professional lives. Those we hurt, by the very process hurt us in return, but I will never be sorry I tried even if it turned out wrong. Those we ignore represent our unforgivable sin. I keep resolving it won't happen again--but it does. Maybe next time.

So go ahead! Judge us by how close we come to professional theatre, or civic theatre, or college theatre, or other high school theatre, or what you did in high school, or whatever standard you wish to select. Regardless, we, the directors, are stuck with our own standards and that inner glow of success, or the agonizing pain of failure. I sure hope it's a glow!

Mr. J.

P.S. For years Mayo theatre students have enjoyed the enthusiastic support and encouragement of Roy Brottlund, the director of the theatre at John Marshall. Get well and come back soon, Roy, the kids on both sides of town miss and need you.

Arsenic and Old Lace

Mayo High School, 1982

Long ago I formulated my philosophy of life which, simply stated, was "to attempt to leave the world just a bit better place because of my existence."

Now, when the last entry is being made in what has been a joy of my life, directing high school theatre, the time has come to look at the balance sheet.

  • A debit entry is the students who have appealed to me for help in the only way they know and I was too preoccupied to even notice.
  • Conversely, a debit entry is the students who wanted attention only for ego satisfaction and I permitted them to distract me from students with deeper needs.
  • A debit entry is the students with far more ability than I thought they had, so I forced them into performing below their potential.
  • Conversely, a debit entry is the students with less ability than needed for the tasks I assigned them, so I predetermined failure for them.
  • A debit entry is the students who came to me needing discipline, and I offered only sympathy.
  • Conversely, a debit entry is the students who came to me needing sympathy and I offered only discipline.
  • A debit entry is the students who came to me thirsting for knowledge and the supply I had to offer was inadequate.
  • Conversely, a debit entry is the students who came to me needing to be creatively productive and I stifled them with too much information.
  • Several additional debit entries are the times I have been too strong, too weak, too aloof, too friendly, too traditional, too experimental, too conservative, too liberal. Everyone agrees I'm too loud.

On the credit side is my sincere belief that I always placed the welfare of the students over the welfare of the show. Well produced shows are only tools to achieve the main objective -- helping students.

On the credit side is the respect and affection I have received from so many students.

On the credit side is the unqualified support I have always received from my family, my co-workers, my principal, the parents, and some segments of the community. So many good people can't be all wrong.

We will never know what the final balance is and, about that, I worry, but I can be content knowing that even if the debits outweigh the credits -- I tried.