An era will come to a close  when McNary High School’s current musical production of “Hairspray” ends on January 29.

It marks the last production to be directed by long-time theatre arts instructor Linda Baker, who will return to the classroom next fall as a reading teacher.

In 1995, when she took over the drama department, she inherited a program that had a great reputation but also had its challenges, mostly with the facilities at Ken Collins Theatre.  Now, fifteen years later, she can step back and rest on her laurels.

The shows she staged at McNary were not the usual list of high school shows.  The  highlight of her tenure was “Les Miserables”—who can forget the huge barricade built on stage for a pivotal scene in that musical?

Each spring the drama department produced a Shakespeare play.  The department under her leadership brought dramas, comedies and of course musicals to life.

Her most enduring legacy as head of the drama department may well be her ability to integrate drama geeks with cheerleaders with athletes in her shows.  The usual high school social divisions gave way.  Students who wouldn’t mingle in the hallways were brought together on stage and it changed the dynamics of student interaction.

As Baker said in a recent interview, “It’s very hard for the cheerleader to ignore the guy from auto shop if he’s had his hands in her armpits for a two-hour dance rehearsal.”

Kids who never thought they would, found themselves singing and dancing.  On stage. In public.  Before their friends and family.  That is quite an accomplishment for any teacher.

What she has changed at McNary most is that she made drama cool.

—LAZ