Subscribe

At Sebastopol’s Analy High School, teaching about life through theater

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

What: “Fiddler on the Roof,” presented by the Analy Arts Theatre Department
When: 7 p.m. April 8, 9, 15 and 16, 1:30 p.m. April 10, 6:30 p.m. April 14
Where: Analy High School, 6950 Analy Ave., Sebastopol
Who: Starr Hergenrather, director/producer; Kelly Stewart, musical direction; Janis Dunson Wilson, vocal direction; Jennifer More, choreography
Advance tickets: $12 general, $10 students/seniors, $8 students with ID, brownpapertickets.com, (800) 838-3006
At the door: $18 general; $15 students/seniors; $8 students with ID
Tickets for the April 14 show benefit Sebastopol World Friends and Project C.U.R.E. for Ukraine, $12 at the door only
Information: analyhighschool.org/theatre

Starr Hergenrather does more than bring live theater to the stage. The Analy High School teacher changes the lives of her young thespians and stage crew members.

With two productions at the Sebastopol campus every school year, Hergenrather selects shows that will have an impact not only on audiences, but on the teenagers appearing on stage and working behind the scenes.

“I don’t do theater for theater’s sake. I do theater to teach,” said Hergenrather, who has been at the helm of Analy’s drama program since 2001. “There always has to be a message with me.”

Outgoing and energetic at 66, the mother of four and self-described “hippie” networks with abandon, calling on friends, acquaintances and community members with experiences that can broaden students’ understanding of the plays.

She wants students to do more than learn lines and plan costumes, sets and choreography. She wants them to connect with characters, story lines and the real-life topics they represent.

This week, Analy Arts Theatre Department presents “Fiddler on the Roof,” the acclaimed 1964 Broadway musical about a poor Jewish milkman and his family living in the village of Anatevka in Imperial Russia of 1905.

The story follows the life of the lead character, Tevye, and his five daughters, the oldest of whom are breaking away from his deep convictions.

Its message of faith, tradition and religious persecution still resonates today, Hergenrather said, particularly as Syrian refugees struggle from the impacts of civil war.

In preparing for the show, her students discussed current events, did research and met with a Jewish friend of Hergenrather’s, Ellen Robin, who shared stories of her strict upbringing and traditions. They also Skyped questions to professional “Fiddler” cast members now reviving the show on New York’s Broadway.

It’s customary for the director to immerse teens in plots and story lines well before opening night.

“It’s relationships you create. That’s what you do on stage. That’s why theater is life,” said Hergenrather, affectionately known as “Hergie” to her students.

When Analy presented “Dead Man Walking,” students met with law enforcement officials and a wrongly accused man who had served jail time. For her first musical, just after the bombing of Afghanistan following 9/11, Hergenrather staged “Hair,” brought in a Vietnam War platoon leader to speak and took students to San Francisco to experience a war protest.

“It’s to gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on; it’s to impart a lot of that to the students,” she said of her efforts. “Through my outreach I find out who can come in and really touch them. They’re not just being a character. They’re portraying a real person. If they believe, everyone else will, too.”

Equally important, Hergenrather creates a sense of community among students. Her drama production class is held after school, drawing a wide cross-culture of students, some of whom abandon other extracurricular activities to participate in drama.

Hergenrather, who also teaches acting and dance classes, is known to pluck theater kids from school benches. When she notices someone eating lunch alone, she invites them to join her team of actors and crew members.

In Analy’s grand 1936 theater, with 900 seats, a balcony and a “huge, huge, amazing stage,” everyone is equal, from principle actors to kids helping with lighting, sound or props.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

What: “Fiddler on the Roof,” presented by the Analy Arts Theatre Department
When: 7 p.m. April 8, 9, 15 and 16, 1:30 p.m. April 10, 6:30 p.m. April 14
Where: Analy High School, 6950 Analy Ave., Sebastopol
Who: Starr Hergenrather, director/producer; Kelly Stewart, musical direction; Janis Dunson Wilson, vocal direction; Jennifer More, choreography
Advance tickets: $12 general, $10 students/seniors, $8 students with ID, brownpapertickets.com, (800) 838-3006
At the door: $18 general; $15 students/seniors; $8 students with ID
Tickets for the April 14 show benefit Sebastopol World Friends and Project C.U.R.E. for Ukraine, $12 at the door only
Information: analyhighschool.org/theatre

“It’s a team sport without the sport,” Hergenrather said. “I tell kids I’m not training prima donnas. We’re an ensemble here. The best thing you can do on stage is make everybody else look good. Then you look good.”

Her productions are as authentic as possible, with elaborate sets she designs with her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Hergenrather. She brings in younger, non-Analy actors when she thinks it’s necessary (a few are in “Fiddler”) and invites Analy’s music and choral students to perform live.

On occasion, students have composed music for productions.

“I won’t do canned music,” she said. “I refuse.”

Parent Mariya Cree, a teacher at Petaluma High School, is among the volunteers impressed with Hergenrather’s broad talent and the caliber of her shows. She’s been attending Analy theater for 10 years and her daughter, sophomore Alana Cree, is part of the stage crew for the current production.

“She has this beautiful ability to bring the best out in everyone that she meets,” Mariya Cree said. “I am in such awe of what she gets high school students to do.”

Hergenrather credits the Sebastopol community with longtime support of the theater arts program.

“Analy has a long legacy of good theater productions. I have a reputation to hold up,” she said. “I’m not going to do it half-assed.”

Hergenrather loves working with teens and has faith in their abilities. She isn’t shy about recruiting parents and other volunteers, often seeking help from the Sonoma County theater community, but insists that students work on every aspect of the productions.

“The students run everything,” she said.

She prides herself on building camaraderie and broadening students’ world views. “Parents tell me, ‘You’ve changed my kid’s life.”

Often, graduates return to visit or help out with productions. They always mention the confidence and perspective they gained through their theater arts experience.

“That’s my hope, that they get it and understand life and history,” Hergenrather said.

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine