In 2006, when the theatre's fly system was condemned, current theatre director Greg Wallendal wrote a letter to alumni asking for funds. This was the birth of P.A.P.A.S.

Letter to Alumni - 2006


Just four years ago I proudly took the position of Theatre Director at Beloit Memorial High School. I knew when I accepted the position that I would be stepping into some mighty big shoes--and it seemed every day somebody felt the need to remind me of just how big those shoes were. The students welcomed me with a warm embrace and when I held auditions for my first production I was beside myself with the amazing talent and dedication presented by the students. They believed in high standards of performance, both on stage and back stage. There was an atmosphere of creative freedom and the students felt empowered. These are the foundation for our great theatre program and, as their director, I found it my pleasure to nurture this same atmosphere of excellence that Betty Reinholz and Loren Sass worked so hard to cultivate. For the last four years I have worked harder than I ever have in my life to live up to those standards.

Four years and seven great productions later, I continue to seek ways to help my students grow beyond my direction. Two years ago I put some of that amazing student talent to the test and we produced three phenomenal one-act plays. The first two clearly demonstrated the keen insights and skills the students had learned from their years in BMHS theatre productions. The third play, "Bang Bang, You're Dead," by William Mastersimone, was wrought with controversy in the school district. This play brings forth the story of a student who commits a school shooting, but the title alone brings contention. While I knew that it would be controversial, I never thought it would cause such a ruckus. It took all the willpower these 12 brave students and I could muster to win over the administration in order to perform this one-act in front of the student body. This was a tremendous learning experience in fighting for something we all believed in, and one that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

Last year we brought a BMHS theatre alum back to our stage. David Anderson ('86) traveled across three continents acting and directing and started Walking the Dog Theater in New York. He dreamed of bringing all that wisdom back home to share it with our current students. That dream finally came true. David directed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" casting our current students. In one of my many conversations with David Anderson, he explained how our theater program saved him from flunking out of high school. The sense of community and connection he felt with others in the C-wing was what kept him coming to school every day, and he wanted to share that with others. And indeed he did, as I had never seen a group of students closer than the cast of Midsummer when David was finished. It is that connection that I hope to nurture in my students and I know that some of my current performers roam the halls and feel exactly the same way David did 20 years ago.

Only a few months prior to David's arrival, a near-tragedy occurred. The auditorium was on the verge of being shut down by inspectors, insurance, and administration. The rigging equipment, commonly known as the fly system, had failed. A heavy pipe broke forty feet above the stage floor and could quite possibly have fallen on the student operating the system below. After two inspections, that fly system was condemned. Without the rigging, the theatre would become a giant black hole, devoid of light and echoing sound in its vast emptiness. I knew that the ropes needed to be replaced, but never in my wildest imagination had I considered that the entire system was outdated and in need of total reconstruction. Even more flabbergasting was the idea that there would be no money in the district to fund this endeavor. The School District of Beloit offered what they could, $5000, to strip out the old equipment--thus covering any safety liability. Anything beyond removal was now up to me. I was expected to raise $120,000 if any of that equipment was to be replaced.

It was clear that I could not accomplish this enormous task alone. I began calling out to my own support network and held a meeting of about 20 concerned parents and students. It was from this meeting that the PAPAS were born. One thing that has not ceased to amaze me is the tremendous support I have received from the community, from parents, administrators, faculty, alumni, and from Loren Sass and Betty Reinholz. It was our current high school principal, Dr. Richard Jancek, who came up with the brick sale idea in the first place, which spawned my idea to solicit seat sponsorship, as well.

When I made the decision to become a high school theatre teacher nearly 10 years ago, I made it my purpose to bring a culture of performing arts to a school district that had little or no program at all. I never conceived that I would someday, instead, be fighting to keep a seasoned one alive. So many times I felt like giving up and moving on when things looked bleak, but there is one thing that keeps me at Beloit Memorial High School, and that is the wonderful students, supportive parents, and dedicated staff that create that same atmosphere for me that brought David Anderson back to Beloit: the connection with others. That connection, more than anything else, is theatre… is life, and sustains me.

Over 40 school and community groups use our auditorium every year. Community groups such as the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra and Opera for the Young perform at our facilities for every elementary and middle school child in our district. Groups such as the Miss Beloit Scholarship Foundation, several youth dance academies, and many faith-based organizations (Hands of Faith) use our facility annually. The fly system renovation is just the tip of the iceberg and with your financial support we can ensure a lasting performing arts community in our schools.


Greg Wallendal
Theatre Director
Beloit Memorial High School