By Talbert Toole
As one chapter closes another begins, and that is especially true for the Oxford High School theatre department as it performs this season in the Kayla Mize Auditorium for the last time.
The department is set to perform shows from its inception in 1975 this season. When the actors and actresses take their final bow with the last show in April, it will begin the transition into its new space in the Fine Arts building at the high school.
John Davenport, the director of the OHS program, has worked in the auditorium for nearly 20 years and said it is bittersweet that the curtain is closing for the last time for his program.
“I’ve grown up in this room,” Davenport said.
Although the auditorium will still be used by the middle school, Davenport said he is excited to expand the theater program in its new space. He said the program has simply outgrown the Kayla Mize Auditorium, and he looks forward to the challenge of the new space.
“The memories here are rich, so rich,” he said. “This room is the face of the program.”
The theater space was dubbed the “Kayla Mize Auditorium” in memory of Kayla Sue Mize, a senior who died in a car crash in 2005. She was heavily involved in the theater and choral programs before her death. The auditorium was renovated in 2006 in her honor.
As the program begins this season, Davenport said he has thought a lot about leaving the legacy of the auditorium behind.
“It’s tender to me,” he said. “[Mize’s] spirit is still in this room.”
The program lost another deep connection and mentor in 2012. Ava Bonds died in Oct. 2012 after being the lead force in the choral and theater production program for nearly 34 years.
Bonds served as Davenport’s mentor for many years before stepping back to let Davenport take the reigns.
“She was instrumental in the success that we’ve had here,” Davenport said.
Bonds was known for a phrase that she frequently said, “Thanks for the memories.”
Davenport said there is no doubt that is what she would say now as the program begins a new chapter.
“I think that’s pretty much all she would say,” Davenport said staring into the rafters of the auditorium.
A Season of Significance
With so many shows that hold a plethora of memories, Davenport began the process of narrowing down his five performance seasons by allowing his senior class to page through various plays the department has performed throughout the years.
This season will not only be a celebration of years past but will also include an alumni tie. The first show, “Noises Off!” was first produced in 2004 and now-OHS Head Football Coach Chris Cutcliffe helped build the set while he was a student. His wife Molly Cutcliffe was in the 2004 production, as well.
“It was the first show that really raised the bar and taught us what kind of program we were destined to be,” Davenport said.
Each show has a significance in the department’s history, such as the production of “God’s Favorite.” The show was in the rehearsal stage when Mize died. She was working as the student director of the play.
“That one was kind of a no brainer,” Davenport said. “It had to be on the list.”
Typically the department’s musical production is slated for February; however, this season the musical will open in April as the final show of the season. Written by the theater department, it will highlight several of the past musicals performed since 1975.
Told in a documentary style, the final show will encompass multimedia with interviews from alumni who have been apart of the program.
As the department continues to grow and perform for the LOU community, Davenport said he hopes the new chapter continues to show the community the quality of work the students are capable of producing.
Full OHS Theatre Season: