Hillside High School’s Drama Department will kick off its 2016-2017 season with “The Wiz,” Nov. 3-6. The opening weekend will also include a celebration for Wendell Tabb, Hillside’s theatre director, who is in his 30th year of service.
Tabb said he directs “The Wiz” every five to seven years. He said he comes back to the production because of the lessons in the script.
“It’s a very important story. It’s a story of hope,” Tabb said. “It’s also a story that you can believe in yourself, that is very important for young people as they make their journey through life that there’s going to be some trials and tribulations and they’re going to have some doubts about certain things, but if they just simply believe that they can do it.”
Tabb said students like “The Wiz” because of the music, which includes jazz and funk. Jordan Hankerson, a junior who plays the lead role of Dorothy, agrees.
“I love the music. Every song tells a story,” Hankerson said. “Just listening to the songs, you hear everyone’s different story.”
The show’s opening night will be a “Night Out with Mr. Tabb,” which will be a celebration of his 30 years as director, Tabb said. He said his family members and students have helped him sustain his career.
“What has really kept me going has been the support of my family to allow me to spend so many long hours here working with young people,” Tabb said. “Secondly, is that the students are hungry for the arts. They have allowed me to give them as much as I possibly can give them and they’re extremely disciplined.”
Jordan Jarmon, a senior, plays the Scarecrow in “The Wiz.” He said he began acting his sophomore year and has enjoyed working with Tabb.
“Mr. Tabb, he’s different. He interacts with his students. He wants you to do your best and encourage you to really be who you are,” Jarmon said.
Camryn Sherer, a senior, plays Glinda and serves as production stage manager for “The Wiz.” She said Tabb is more than a director to his students.
“He’s come to be known as like ‘Father Tabb’. He’s another father figure,” Sherer said. “Because we’re here so long, like eight hours of the school day and then after school, some days we stay here until 11 p.m. when we have to. We need someone to look up to and someone to nurture us and help us feel like they’re our parent when we’re not with our parents.”
Tabb said when he came to Hillside High School back in 1987, he originally planned to stay for a year. He stayed longer after realizing the arts could be professional in high school. Since taking over, he has helped the Hillside Drama Department win over 100 awards, certificates and citations, according to Tabb.
Tabb said he will be given the NAACP Freedom Fund Lifetime Achievement Award Oct. 29. He said he thanks God for each award he receives and gives all the credit to his students.
“But to receive a lifetime achievement award, it’s something that I don’t take lightly,” Tabb said. “At 54 years old, that someone can look and say, ‘Hey, you know, you have done all of this in your lifetime already.’ It’s an amazing accomplishment, and I really really truly give all of that back to the students.”
The first two performances of “The Wiz” will be part of the Educational Matinee Series. The shows start at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3 and Friday, Nov. 4. Thursday’s performance is for kindergarten through fifth grade, while Friday’s show is for middle and high schools.
The Nov. 4 opening night show at 7:15 p.m. is a “Night Out with Mr. Tabb.” The weekend wraps up with performances at 3:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5, and a final performance at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6. All shows will be performed at Hillside High School at 3727 Fayetteville St. in Durham.
Tickets for the Educational Matinee Series shows are $5 for students, while teachers and bus drivers are free. Weekend shows are $5 a ticket for groups of ten or more, $7 for students, senior citizens and children, and $10 for adults. Tickets can be purchased online at www.seatyourself.biz/hillside.