By John Moore
Dec. 20, 2012
Longtime readers know I have a bit of a contentious relationship with my beloved alma mater, Regis Jesuit High School, where I was once valedictorian, senior of the year and, most proudly … voted the senior who throws the best parties! I recently got more than a little angry blowback from the present-day Regis community when I lovingly recounted our old rivalry with Mullen High School. Ah, good times.
I loved Regis for the open-minded Jesuit education it provided not only to poor white kids like the many mini-Moores, but to kids of several skin colors … not all of whom were recruited for sports. The school took the money and ran south in 1990 when a wealthy alum struck a major retail deal with the city of Aurora that required him to give back a certain amount of acreage for public use. The city suggested a park, but the alum decided instead to give the money to Regis in exchange for his name now being, shall we say, very prominent on campus. This is all water under the bridge but … our Regis was never the same.
Well, in one way. Even at its swank new academy-style campus in Aurora, Regis has never made much of a priority of the performing arts, which is amazing considering how many contributors to the arts the school has produced. We performed wherever we could, and the kids at the new school have had to perform in various places like the corner of the cafeteria, or now in a rented theater far across town. For a school with as much money as Regis has, it has never sat well with me that it has never made a real, a bricks-and-mortar commitment to arts education.
Until now. For the first time in 136 years and umpteen locations, the school is building its very first, bonafide performing-arts center, including a 500-seat, state-of-the-art theater. Which I think is pretty swell. Even though I’ve never been invited to a single reunion (though I have crashed one), I was recently asked by my pal Colin St. John, Regis’ fence-building and forward-thinking alumni director, to answer a few questions about this major news from an alum’s point of view. Colin would ask his questions via email, then I would rant about this or that, and he then would judiciously edit my nonsense into the following, safe-for-publication Q&A. I am not going to lie: My politically incorrect ways put Colin’s editing skills to the test. So, out of respect for him, I’m presenting his edited version here. (Now, if any of you would like to see the unedited version of what I had to say, you just let me know …) Enjoy!
An alumni perspective on the new performing arts center:
What were the arts spaces like when you were at Regis?
I remember as a boy going to watch my oldest brother Brian perform in the dumpy old gymnasium barn behind the Pink Palace. My first play was “Inherit the Wind” in the “new” chapel, which was no place to perform a play. But we got bounced out of there when the drama teacher found a half a can of beer in the light booth. By then, the new main high-school building had been built just north of the Pink Palace, but we were forced to perform in a lecture hall with no backstage. Just a storage room. A few years ago, I learned that Regis Jesuit was renting out the cavernous old theater at Colorado Heights University. That’s where my mom performed theater in college, so I’m guessing it isn’t in all that great of shape now. And I couldn’t help but notice it’s a 17-mile drive each way for them to and from school. Drama kids are always being asked to sacrifice like that, and it kind of stinks. Can you imagine putting the Regis football stadium in Wheat Ridge? This is why I applaud the school’s commitment to building a 500-seat theater for drama and music. I think having a first-class facility will not only encourage students to participate in theater arts, but will expose greater student audiences to the thrill of live performance. Both bring essential, lifelong benefits.
How vital do you see arts as part of an education?
I strongly believe the performing arts should be a required part of the curriculum just as much as math, science and physical education, I really do. This is an old stat, but drama kids outscored other students on the 2005 SAT by an average of 65 points in verbal and 34 points in math. Studies show drama kids have better reading comprehension, better attendance records and generally stay more engaged in school than those who don’t.
Do you think your arts education at Regis led you down your career path?
As the editor of the Raider Review student newspaper, I learned how to courteously edit other people’s work, and to develop my own writing style. Performing in high-school plays just made every aspect of high school better. While my parents were getting divorced, I buried myself in books (including, yes, my pocket New Testament), parties, the school newspaper and the drama program. I was looking for answers … anywhere. Somehow, I ended up being the valedictorian of my class, and for that I owe a great debt to Kim Smith (drama), Julie Martin (English) Kathy Madden (newspaper), and the chance I was given to play Walter Hollander in a stupid Woody Allen comedy. Performing kept me sane, it kept my studying, and it kept me laughing through many tears.
Is there any one play you would like to see Regis students perform?
I have several dozen suggestions, and I’m guessing every one would probably get shot down. I hope every high-school kid gets the chance to perform in “Spring Awakening,” “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “Next to Normal” and “The Book of Mormon” someday. I taught theater for a couple years at Holy Family and Machebeuf, and I know that to really show kids the incredible, visceral joy of performing, you have to give them material they can relate to, and will mean something to them in their everyday lives. Schools should not be afraid to let high-school kids explore sexual or violent content. As those studies shows, drama kids are the best kind of kids. They are in it for the right reasons. Let’s challenge them. They can handle it.