Middle school students are the perfect age. They combine all of the critical thinking of adulthood layered into a young mind that wants to try everything.

When I was in seventh grade, I wrote and acted in a play called "Alka Smeltzer" that rode on a pillow of success thanks to a whoopee-cushion punch line. The experience was nothing short of life-changing for me and fueled my dream of becoming a middle school drama teacher. The faith and freedom that my amazing teacher placed in me is the same I present to middle school students today.

Panther Playhouse is a student theatre company that was created to give the participants ownership of every production. Sixth and seventh grade students review and give ideas for next year's season of shows. We start the school year welcoming new students into Panther Playhouse with a fun musical or play that we perform on the Lake Washington High School stage. In the spring the students gain control of whatever production elements they wish to explore when they tackle an original adaptation of a Shakespeare play performed at Kirkland Middle School.

The goal is for our latent thespians to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits. We introduce them to every aspect of creating a professional stage performance that we have time to cover. Since we push the bounds of what is possible, mistakes will be made in every show, but there is no better way to learn and make every performance their own.

Every student that wishes to participate is welcomed into the program, regardless of financial situation. Since the educational benefits of performance art extend into the audience, we permit students from all LWSD schools to attend our Shakespeare performances for free.

We use a six week rehearsal period, and the time between auditions and opening night moves rapidly. Parents are involved throughout by chaperoning rehearsals and serving on a committee. No experience is necessary since we provide instructions and guidance, but having those additional hands is a huge part of the success of the program.

I choke up at the end of every school year as another class of students that I love will move on to high school. Fortunately, there is always another amazing group waiting to take their place. I hope that includes a middle school student from your family.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Johnmichael P. Monteith
Performing Arts Director