Brooks, new ERHS theatre director, has to start fast

by Bruce Strand, Arts editor

When the theatre director isn’t hired until early August, she has to hit the ground running.

“I am way behind,” said Michelle Brooks, who on Aug. 3 was offered the post that will go to the School Board later this month for final approval.

Normally,  the former Spring Lake Park theatre director says, she would have had her play picked out, conducted production meetings, consulted with parents and boosters, and would be ready to start auditions.

With much still to do, her solution is to “pick a play and not a musical, and one that I have directed before.”

Her choice?

New ERHS theatre director Michelle Brooks has directed in Spring Lake Park for 10 years. She lives in Otsego.

“We will do ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ which will be approprate, too, pending us getting the rights. Just before the holidays, that will be a good p lay to do,” she said about the tale familiar to almost everyone due to the enduring popularity of the 1946 movie starring Jimmy Stewart. It’s slated for mid-November.

Brooks, who lives in Otsego, has taught at Sping Lake Park for 11 years, mainly English lit and composition along with speech. She will remain on the SLP faculty.

At SLP she directed middle school plays and musicals for five years, then high school fall plays and one-act plays for five years but not the spring musicals, which were handled by two other directors who has been there for many years.

In one-act competitions, her plays have advanced to sections the last three years and almost made state in 2009 with “1984,” losing on a tiebreaker.

She was also quite proud of last fall’s “Witness to the Prosecution,” an Agatha Christie drama. “I directed those seniors since they were in sixth grade and it was so much fun to watch them grow and mature.”

A native of Oshkosh, WI, where she was active in theatre, she attended Arizona State University, majoring in English while studying theatre, especially directing.

Mike Cunningham, ERHS’s new activities director who started in mid-July, held the same post at Spring Lake Park last year. He was “very impressed” by Brooks, especially her emphasis on getting a lot of kids involved, and she became his first big hire. “She will do well here,” he said.

John Barth, former ERHS activities director who retired in June, had four finalists picked, but decided to let the new A.D. make the decision. Brooks was not among that group. She said she didn’t hear about the opening untl July and contacted Cunningham soon after he became A.D. Asked why she wanted the ERHS post, she said, ”I thought it would be great to do something like this in my own community, where I live,” said Brooks.

She has lived in Otsego four years, and for two years in an earlier period. “I had friends here, and I just love the area,” she explains.

Brooks  succeeds Phil Bologna, who resigned after eight years. She said she has had no contact with ERHS theatre or its actors previously but watched a pair Bologna’s musicals, “HMS Pinafore” and “White Christmas.”

Regarding the students who are involved in theatre or want to be, Brooks said she is hoping to set up “an impromptu meeting” this month, prior to school.