From left, North Medford High School drama seniors Jorden Smith and Leslie Kirstein, sophomore Megan Anderson and senior Kyle Bird meet with the school's drama director, John Doty. The theater program is holding a gofundme campaign to raise money for current programs and to retire debt. - Bob Pennell

North Medford theater program stages online funraising effort

North Medford High School Theater Director John Doty initiated an online campaign to raise $5,000 for the school's theater program, which has been operating in the red for the past several seasons.

"This is the third year we've started the season with a negative balance," said Doty. "We're hoping to turn that around."

Show attendance and outside funding have declined in recent years because of the economy, but the school has continued to offer the same number of scholarships for students participating in outside drama workshops and competitions, he said.

Last Friday, Doty started a gofundme account to raise $5,000 to fund the drama team's current undertakings and retire debt accrued over the last three years. As of Wednesday afternoon, five people had made donations for a total of $385. (Search for "Doty" at

"We don't need one person to give a lot of money," Doty said. "We need a lot of people to give a little bit.

"If each of my Facebook friends pitched in $5, we could get halfway to our goal," he joked.

The Medford School District historically has paid a stipend to the theater director and an extra-duty stipend to a drama assistant. However, the assistant stipend is not consistent, leaving the drama team to pay for outside help — technicians, designers and accompanists — from its own coffers.

"Last year, (the assistant stipend) wasn't paid at all," Doty said. "South got a fraction of its stipend in the fall, but they haven't got it for the remainder of the season. The expectation is that they will. The expectation is that we will, too."

North Medford Principal Ron Beick said that years ago, when the district had to make cuts, it asked schools to offer a musical every other year instead of annually. During the off years, the drama assistant stipend was not awarded.

Now that the teachers' contract has been settled, Beick said, the budget committee can look at reinstating the annual stipend.

"Now we're back to where we can afford to do a musical every year — or at least we'd like to," he said.

In his job description, Doty said, the district asked that the drama director produce three plays or two plays and a musical each year.

Proceeds from shows, concessions and student activity fees ($50, unless a student qualifies for financial aid) go directly into the school's drama activities account to be used for paint, sets, equipment rentals, costumes and other production-related expenses, Doty said.

"Just to get a musical on stage, you're looking at $1,500 to $2,000 in rights and rentals, and you haven't even had an audition yet," he said. "I budget between $4,000 and $5,000 for a musical, and with decent attendance, we can just about break even."

Fantastical productions with elaborate sets and costumes, such as "Seussical" or the "Wizard of Oz," cost even more, he added.

This year, North's drama team staged "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Hamlet" and three one-act original plays by students. To make these shows happen, the theater program has had to borrow from the general activities fund, Doty said.

Students had planned to present "Noises Off" in February and "Kiss Me, Kate" in May. However, because of the 11-day teachers strike in February, "Noises Off" had to be postponed until May, and "Kiss Me, Kate" was canceled.

As "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "Hamlet" are in the public domain, the school was spared the added cost of attaining intellectual property rights. If the school has to purchase IP rights — and additional costumes or scenery — the price can be about $1,000.

About 70 students are currently enrolled in drama classes at North. Of those, 26 are signed up to attend Oregon's Thespian Conference April 3-5 in Salem. The three-day event includes student showcases and workshops and costs each student about $140 — $70 to attend and another $70 for transportation, food and lodging. In years past, the school has provided scholarships — up to $100 — for about a third of the students attending the conference.

One local business used to sponsor many of the scholarships but, about four years ago, became another victim of the economic downturn, Doty said.

When that source of funding ended, the school tried to maintain the same level of service on its own.

The school also provided scholarships for some of the students attending the Regional Acting Competition, held the first weekend of February.

During the summers of 2007 through 2010, North Medford got a $33.5 million makeover as part of a $189 million districtwide bond package. The massive overhaul included new floors, ceilings, plush seats and acoustical, electrical and mechanical systems in the theater.

"It seems a tragedy to have invested that money but not be able to utilize that space with any regularity," Doty said.

"I believe in the importance of theater education or that wouldn't have been the job I chose," he said. "We have a program with a lot of interest and participation, but it needs to be viable."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or Follow her at

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