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McNary goes local for drama director

Of the Keizertimes

After four years of a two-hour commute to Parkrose High School in Northeast Portland, Tom Cavanaugh is looking forward to working just five minutes from his front door.

But that’s not all that drew him to McNary High School.

“I knew the reputation of McNary theatre,” Cavanaugh said. “I’ve known Dallas (Myers) for years and years and years. I knew a lot of what they had going on there. It was all really exciting. To have that many kids interested and participating in theatre is amazing.”

Cavanaugh is replacing Myers, who stepped down after seven years as McNary’s drama director. Cavanaugh and Myers were at Western Oregon University at the same time and acted in many shows together. Cavanaugh’s wife, Jessica, now a teacher at Roots Academy in Salem, did her student teaching at McNary under then drama director Linda Baker.

“She was able to speak to the fact that there’s this amazing community of support in theatre,” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh was introduced to theatre as a high schooler at Westview in Beaverton when athletics didn’t go his way.

“I thought I was a three-sport athlete,” Cavanaugh said. “I played football my freshman year, got cut from basketball my freshman year, played baseball my freshman year, got cut from baseball my sophomore year, took a couple of theatre classes because (it was an) easy A when I was a freshman and I ended up really connecting with the teacher and when sports were no longer an option, she encouraged me to start doing some shows. It worked out. I found out that’s where my talent was.”

After high school, Cavanaugh worked at Starbucks and acted in plays in the Portland area.

“Teaching was always going to be the goal but I wanted to do some things first and kind of settle into it,” Cavanaugh said. “I really enjoyed doing performance. I wanted to act for a while but it was never New York or LA. It was just something I enjoyed doing and I wanted to keep enjoying doing it rather than make it my job.”

After getting his undergraduate degree from Western Oregon in theatre performance, Cavanaugh got his Master’s in education from Willamette four years ago. He student taught at McKay High School. His first job was at Parkrose, which didn’t have the theatre tradition like McNary. Of the 900 students in the high school, only 22 and just five boys came to the first audition.

“My goal was more interest from students who don’t traditionally do theatre,” Cavanaugh said. “It was my goal to make it more of a school-wide theatre rather than just working with theatre kids.”

When Parkose did High School Musical in November, 2015, Cavanaugh had 65 in the cast and another 30 backstage.

“A lot of what I was trying to do was build relationships with students and trying to pick plays that I knew the kids would be interested in,” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh also had to build up the theatre classes. In his first semester at Parkrose, Cavanaugh taught yearbook and two freshmen orientation classes because there wasn’t enough kids interested in theatre. By his second year, Cavanaugh was a full-time theatre teacher.

Since McNary has already done forecasting, theatre classes will mostly remain the same in 2017-18 but Cavanaugh would like to teach stage combat in the future.

“I love teaching it,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s something that really gets the kids interested. It’s a great way to draw outside interest. A kid might not want to get up and do a monologue but he might want to get up and swing a sword.”

McNary has announced its musical for next year—the Wizard of Oz. Choir teacher Joshua Rist and choreographer Zoe Banton led auditions on June 13-15.

“Transitioning to a new theatre teacher is hard so we didn’t want to do something that the kids have never heard of so they have to both buy into a musical that they’ve never heard and don’t want to be a part of and a teacher that they don’t know anything about,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re coming in really excited, hopefully, about a musical and we get to have that awesome experience while we get to know each other.”

Cavanaugh is meeting with the McNary Thespian Board on July 11 to plan the rest of the season.