Drama teacher Patricia Vitagliano exits left for the last time.
After almost 20 years of directing hundreds of students in dozens of plays, Vitagliano puts together her last production with this week's musical, "A Chorus Line," at Oakland Mills High School. The 58-year-old English teacher is retiring at the end of this year to travel and take care of an elderly mother.
"I really loved teaching the kids and following their careers," she said. "And I'll remain friends with the staff."
Vitagliano started the drama program at Oakland Mills in 1974, the year the school opened, with guidance from Don McBee, a former Wilde Lake High School teacher who already had established a thriving program. She had started her high school teaching career two years earlier at Howard High School.
Through the years, she's put on such shows as "Pride and Prejudice," "The Sound of Music," "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "The Diary of Anne Frank."
"I liked watching the development and creation of a character on stage," she said. "Seeing the frustrations, seeing the anxiety that develops throughout the production and then seeing the kids pull it together. It was a career that was really rewarding."
A number of her former students have gone on to pursue professional acting careers, notably Steve Tobin and Kim Burroughs, who both studied at Yale. Burroughs was recently nominated for a Tony Award for her work with the Yale Repertory Program.
"I think the students have that drive," she said. "What happens is you provide the opportunity for them to perform."
Some of the students she works with have had no acting experience. Others started in community theater at an early age and continued in high school.
Vitagliano said the school's drama program has gotten better over the years with the help of Cynthia Stephens, who has taught singing and dancing for seven years.
"Before she came, there was no music program," Vitagliano said.
While all the plays she's directed involve a certain amount of angst, some have more than others -- like the time she directed "The Fantastiks," when cast and crew got an itch from acting. A week before the show, a student involved in creating background scenes brought in a branch to decorate with paint and colorful sparkles. Everybody marveled at the branch, touching it and saying how wonderful it would look.
The next day, everybody got a red rash -- an acute case of poison ivy.
"We all got it. We scratched around a lot," said Vitagliano. "The kids were scratching all through rehearsal. But they just went right on through."
One drama that is especially poignant to Vitagliano is "The Diary of Anne Frank," which ran three years ago.
"Everyone who played a role had developed the role to a FTC professional level," she said. "And two days after we did the play, the Berlin Wall came down."
"A Chorus Line" runs at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at Oakland Mills High School at 9410 Kilimanjaro Road. Tickets: $5 adults, $4 students.