Hillside High School Names Theater after Directors John H. Gattis and Wendell Tabb

Wendell Tabb stands on the stage recently named in his honor. “Me being in this leadership position gives me the opportunity to help them become better citizens, to help them become better professionals, and of course better artists,” he said. (Staff photo by Will Shropshire)

Parents and community members honored two of Hillside High School’s drama directors, Wendell Tabb and the late John H. Gattis, by renaming the theater after them. They also dedicated the stage to Tabb.

“I feel that it’s an honor that’s well deserved, well earned by both men,” said William Logan, principal of Hillside High School. “I’m appreciative of the fact that the parents saw it worthy to do it while Mr. Tabb was still here versus doing it posthumously or in his retirement.”

Tabb has been the drama director for 32 years, taking Hillside students to perform all over the world, directing over 100 plays at the high school and winning numerous awards. Gattis was the drama director in from the 1940s through the early 1970s. According to Tabb, Gattis laid the foundation of artistic excellence that Hillside strives to achieve.

“In the late 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and some of the ‘70s, he allowed those students to use their artistic gifts and talents to have that Broadway mentality,” Tabb said. “That was important then, and of course it continues now.”

Principal Logan said that Tabb pays homage to Gattis’ legacy through the theater, but has definitely created his own legacy of artistic excellence.

“He’s had a positive impact, but I think that’s an understatement,” Logan said. “When you think about over 30 years of service, to Hillside High School and the hundreds if not thousands of students he’s had the opportunity to influence. I think you see the evidence of his impact in the aspirations that so many of our students have for the arts, specifically in theater.”

The theater at Hillside High School has been renamed in honor of the late John “Mr. G” Gattis and Hillside’s current drama director, Wendell Tabb. The stage has been renamed the Wendell Tabb Stage. (Staff photo by Will Shropshire)

Kaia Brown is a sophomore in the drama program at Hillside. Doing drama at Hillside under Mr. Tabb has helped her to adjust to high school and to learn valuable life lessons.

“It’s made it a very smooth transition for middle school to high school because everybody here is like a family and you don’t get that many places except for at home,” said Brown. “It was really fun, interactive, everybody knew who everybody was, and a learning experience as well.”

Brown said that Tabb’s work ethic and care for others extends beyond the theater.

“Mr. Tabb is an extremely hard-working man who deserves every blessing he gets,” she said. “He also deserves everybody’s respect because even when we’re done working, he’s still here working, putting in the hours to make sure that the shows, the school, and the community are going to be okay.”

Tabb said he feels truly honored to have the community show him this level of appreciation.

“It’s an absolute honor,” he said. Especially being only 56 years of age and having a community and a school district to think enough of my body of work to deem it appropriate to name the theater after me.”

Tabb’s 32 year career at Hillside has been full of successes, but he said he still has one goal for the program that he hopes to achieve before he eventually retires.

“I’m extremely blessed that we’ve been able to travel to and perform on six of the seven continents,” he said. “I think what’s left now is for us to have an original production that will be in an off-Broadway house in New York. And I think that we are very close in the reality of that.”

Tabb and his students will travel to New York City over spring break to perform in the Bronx and meet with Broadway producers. Tabb hopes that this might lead to an opportunity to have a Hillside original production performed in an off-Broadway theater.

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