When Natasha Parnian was a 7th grader enrolled in Langston Hughes Middle School’s theater program, she met several student directors from South Lakes High School.
"I remember walking in and seeing these senior student directors and I just thought they were so cool," Parnian recalled.
Now, Parnian herself is a senior student director in the South Lakes theater department. Student directors are responsible for running nearly every aspect of the school plays — everything from raising money to running rehearsals.
These days, all seven student directors are working overtime to prepare for the April 22 opening of the spring musical, "Little Shop of Horrors."
Parnian, who became involved in South Lakes’ performing arts department during her sophomore year, credited theater with drawing her out of her shell and helping her to become the extrovert she is today.
"I didn’t talk freshman year," she said. "Sophomore year, I started doing shows and it gave me so much more confidence."
Being named a student director is the culmination of years of work in the theater department and is considered an honor, said Maria Harris, South Lakes’ theater department director and performing arts chair.
"They have to be very well-respected by their peers," Harris said. "As you come up through the program, you’ve earned that respect."
DJ Cashmere, also a senior student director, has aspired to earn that responsibility since he first came to South Lakes four years ago.
Being a student director, Cashmere said, teaches the often unseen management aspect of the theater business. Because their responsibilities extend beyond just acting, the student directors get a taste of what professional theater is actually about.
"It’s the kind of thing you do willingly," Cashmere said. "It shows you a whole new side of theater."
EVERY AUGUST, Harris gathers the student directors to her house for a picnic and to plan out South Lakes’ theater schedule for the upcoming school year. That familiarity continues throughout the year, Harris said, allowing her to trust the students and vice versa.
"It’s a very nice mutual give-and-take," she said. "They’ve never let me down."
Craig Lewis, also a senior student director, said a powerful bond has formed between Harris and her students, particularly with the student directors.
"We’re like a big family," Lewis said.
Most of the student directors spend what little free time they have together, Parnian said.
"We all just have fun," she said. "We’re all moving towards one goal and it’s just so much fun."
THE STUDENT directors have been working on the upcoming production of "Little Shop of Horrors" since January, when auditions were held to fill the 40-person cast. With opening night fast approaching, the cast is rehearsing every day after school.
In addition to their theater duties, the student directors must also juggle school work and other extracurricular activities.
But the hard work is worth it, said Derek Yale, a senior student director.
"You get back 10 times what you put into it," he said.
By being as involved in theater as they all are, Cashmere said, the student directors are gaining experience they will use in their future careers. Cashmere and many of his fellow student directors plan on pursuing theater in college and professionally.
"It’s so enriching," he said. "When the show’s over, we’re like ‘we still want to go to rehearsals.’"