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Taking her final bow
Performances of "Into the Woods" are scheduled to take place at the high school on Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday and 2 p.m.
Tickets are $8.00 for general admission and $5.00 for students and seniors.
Music teacher Cassie Gillis has been a fixture in Bremerton schools for 35 years.
But when the curtain goes up on April 19, it will be her final opening night and her last musical production with Bremerton High School.
The grand dame of music is retiring.
The play that is to be Gillis’ last at the school is called “Into the Woods.” It is part of a series of Broadway plays adapted for high school production. It follows a baker and his wife who are unable to have children because of a witch’s curse.
The witch gives them an ultimatum and the infertile couple embark on a quest to retrieve a laundry list of items to lift their curse and return the witch to her younger, more beautiful self.
The play intersects with other well known fairy tales, as the couple crosses the paths of characters such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella.
Right now, Gillis is working with her students to put the finishing touches on the play and prepare for the rapidly approaching opening night. With her is BHS drama teacher Alicia Grosso.
While Gillis is in her last year teaching at the high school, Grosso is in her first. She came in at the beginning of the school year to help resurrect Bremerton’s drama program. While the music department has thrived under Gillis, drama has taken a back seat.
Grosso is starting largely from scratch. With past musicals, the school has brought in guest directors to work alongside Gillis’ music production. For the last few years before Grosso, the school had no permanent drama teacher.
This year may be the first that Gillis and Grosso have worked together at the high school, but it isn’t the first time the two names have stood together in Bremerton. Their mothers worked within the musical community in central Kitsap County for years.
Grosso said their mothers estimated they’ve worked on 18 shows together.
“My mom was a school teacher and a theater director,” Grosso said. As for Gillis’ mom, “she played cello and piano in the pit for just about everything that happened in Kitsap County.”
While Gillis stayed in Bremerton, Grosso spent the last 15 years teaching theater at the University of Southern California before returning home.
“It’s very strange to be back in Bremerton after 30 years away,” Grosso said. “But I’ve got great kids and this school is just so supportive of all of us.”
The life of a drama teacher and theater director is a busy one, and Grosso admits it’s different from USC. She said, though, that she feels much more secure knowing Gillis is there.
Gillis began her career in Bremerton as a middle- and junior-high school music teacher in the late 1970s. She taught there for 27 years before transferring to the high school in 2006, where she has been since.
The high-school experience was certainly different from junior high, she said. According to Gillis, she went from about 30 performances outside of a school day in the junior high to around 70 or 80.
During some rehearsal nights she comes back to school after the final bell and stays until 5 p.m. before rushing home to eat and then returning to the school for a two-hour meeting.
There are some parts of the school year, she said, where she only has three nights off in an entire month.
“I lift my hat to all the high school music teachers because there is so much that goes on outside of the school day,” Gillis said. “It is a burn.”
She was able to make it through that first year at the high school years ago with the help of her students.
“My class that I moved up with … I will be forever grateful to them because they sustained me through that transition,” Gillis said. That class, she said, was tremendously talented. “We had a magical time together from 8th grade to senior year.”
This year’s class as well Gillis thinks to be full of talent. She’ll be taking about 40 students to the state vocal competition in Ellensburg at the end of the month, which she thinks is the highest number she has ever taken.
The final few months of Gillis’ career won’t be a breeze. Gillis said she isn’t tired of the teaching, but she’s ready to move on.
When she leaves the district, it will be somewhat of a relief from the endless nights, but Gillis said she doesn’t plan to take it easy. She plays the music at her church, Grace Fellowship, and she has other offers to continue working in the field of music.
She even plans to take piano lessons again.
“She’s not going to retire and sit on the beach,” Grosso said.
Grosso said Gillis’ retirement is a chance for her to work on all the things she has put “second” to her students all these years. It’s a chance for her to once again focus on her own goals.
When the curtain falls on Gillis’ teaching career this spring, it won’t be the end of the play, just a pause before the next act – an act which Gillis plans to make the most of.