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Teachers learn a thing or two in school play


WESTMINSTER -- Mary Lou Grout whirls around the stage at Westminster High, giving cues, reading lines and placing props.

She occasionally and purposely hits her head on a barrel table, set in the "general store" scene from "West of Pecos."

"I won't take credit for this stuff," she says with a laugh.

The Westminster High School English teacher is producer, director and occasional actress in the three-act comedy based on the life and times of Judge Roy Bean.

The western, set in an 1885 Texas town, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. performances on Thursday and Friday. Admission is $3.

"Where's the zapper? That's what happens to anybody who misses a line," she threatens good-naturedly.

With only two rehearsals to go before opening night, the cast remains relaxed, though still a little unsure of lines.

"I'll never get on stage if you people keep missing your cues," moans the judge from behind the stage.

The judge, played by John Holt, is not immune to mistakes, as he calls "K.O. Cliburn" to the stand.

"That's Claiborne, like in Liz," shouts one of the cue-givers.

"I just know I'm going to screw up that name," says Holt.

This play has a special twist for Grout, who usually directs all-student casts in several dramas each year. "West of Pecos" is cast with faculty co-workers.

"The kids often feel a little self-conscious, performing for their peers," she says. "The teachers don't mind looking stupid. Their classroom experience makes them more vocal and verbal."

Grout says the cast is having a great time and is a "joy to work with." The players take direction well, she adds.

"Tell me where you want me to enter from," says Kent Kreamer, vice principal. "I'm easy to get along with."

"You guys just ran through a wall," she shouts to the stage. "Never mind, I'll move the wall."

The biggest problem has been for the cast to schedule rehearsals around meetings, end-of-year exams and after-school classes.

"Not that different [from students]," she says.

Lily Langtry, heroine of the play, has to wind up her duties as Principal Sherri-Le Bream before taking the stage. While Janet Kelley helps the junior class with its prom preparations, she's sharing a role with Janice Hobart. The director overlooks tardiness as actors drift in late for rehearsal.

Often, an extra sitting in the audience keeps the scene flowing by tossing in a line for an absent actor.

Besides the studied dialogue, the cast ad libs lines that have special meaning to the school.

As one actor complains of confusion, Judge Bean replies, "That's a natural state for math teachers."

Holt, an English teacher, went after the lead role with a fierce determination, says Grout.

"I gave everyone a choice of three parts. He wrote 'Roy Bean' in all three blanks," she says.

Holt gets right into the character, donning a black top hat and red bandanna for every rehearsal.

Grout remains confident the cast will overcome obstacles and deliver stellar performances. She says the production has been a learning experience for the actors.

"Now you will have lots of respect for these high school actors, who come out here and perform," she tells the crew. "It's totally different, isn't it?"

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