The Show Must Go On

Rio Rico Thespians and “The show must go on” Mentality
Posted on 02/23/2021
RRHS 2020 Thespians

Rio Rico High School
By Loree Johnson

In a difficult year when COVID has turned the world upside down, Joseph Ellison, Director of Theater and Performing Arts at Rio Rico High School, said, “The show must go on.” In the month of November 2020, the RRHS Thespians performed The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and Mr. Ellison received the Arizona Theater Teacher of the Year Award for the Southern Region.

While many schools were switching to film or broadcasting, Mr. Ellison said, “We can still do theater. If people can do it while London is falling apart, while French aristocrats are falling apart, while Rome is burning, we can find a way to do it while wearing masks.”

Mr. Ellison’s determination and innovative spirit were evident early on.

Mr. Ellison knew he wanted to be a teacher from the time he was in kindergarten, and his love of theater began in middle school.

He participated in theater in Upward Bound, a TRIO summer program in his hometown of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and was immediately taken by it-especially the storytelling aspect.

His passion for theater was ignited, but there was no real theater program at his school.

Mr. Ellison and a friend talked their freshman English teacher into teaching Theater Arts I in exchange for agreeing to tutor English for one year.

They wrote the screenplays, directed, and managed the program.

After majoring in Theater Arts at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, he came to Rio Rico High School in 2017 where he has inspired his students and transformed them into leaders.

He tells them, “I am your instructor. Tell me what you want and I will push you.”

He said that The Importance of Being Earnest was a success in large part because of the work of Nikolas Kane, acting coach, and Melissa Molera, Scenic Supervisor, who “made it happen.”

He said the RRHS productions have achieved superior ratings when they compete in state competitions because his students lead the productions.

He explained, “Most theater teachers when they do competitions control it all.”

In contrast, his students do everything from picking the plays to performing them.

He said, “Rehearsals, planning, building-it’s all them.”

Atticus Birkett, Publicity Crew Head, contributes the success of the program to Mr. Ellison’s “enthusiasm” and “support.”

He said that even students who are timid when they join the program learn to “teach, guide, and lead” because of the leadership structure of the program.

Bailey Kane, Performance Student Supervisor, said it is the people who make it a success.

She said of Ellison, “He is the only teacher who has inspired me. He pushes limits to help me succeed-go beyond.”

Miren Miranda, Vocal Coach, said that she best likes the “community” feeling of the program.

“We are almost like a very close family,” said Miranda. “We really care for each other-everyone has input.”

There are many exciting things coming up for the Thespians.

Work will begin on their new Performing Arts Building in February with a projected completion date of August 2021.

They will perform Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in April and are hoping to have the Annual Spotlight with the entire arts department in May and a middle school production of Annie Jr. this summer.