You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 4 p.m.

Skyline theater program in need of full-time staff position to reach potential

By Guest Column

I have participated in the theater program at Skyline High School since my freshman year, as everything from a supporting actor to the lead in a show, from stage crew to stage manager. Current and past members of the program have and will go on to pursue careers in music and theatre, largely due to the knowledge, experience and support they gained from being a part of this program. Perhaps more important are the students who will use the lessons they learned in theater to enrich all aspects of their lives.

From the first show in 2008, “The Miracle Worker,” to the upcoming musical “Aida,” Skyline theatre has built up a solid program of dedicated techies and actors devoted to continuing the growing tradition of excellence in all our performances.

SKYLINE24 2-20 LON.jpg

Skyline High School file photo

We all love our wonderful director, Anne-Marie Roberts, and we appreciate all that she has done for us, and the program. However, the idea that she can manage and cultivate all aspects of this program entirely on her own frankly is absurd.

This year we were able to hire our fantastic stage manager and technical director Adam Baillio and it is largely due to his expertise and commitment to helping this program that "The Crucible" was such a great success. With his help Mrs. Roberts is able to devote far more attention to the actors and production jobs, while he supervises essentially all of the technical stuff.

I was the stage manager for "The Crucible," and from his first day, Mr. Baillio was giving me tips and advice about how to be a better and more efficient as a stage manager. Before this year the tech experience has been solely focused on getting the show up and supporting the actors, but with him here the technical work has become a learning experience in itself.

Mr. Baillio has been invaluable to this program already, and it is clear that he would continue to be even more of an asset if he stayed with us, but he cannot do so on the salary that he has been given. The school board needs to take the action necessary to make his position a full-time job, or we will lose him, a scenario that would be extremely detrimental to our program.

As a comparison, please note the production staff in Pioneer High School’s Theatre Guild. They have four full-season staff members. And that is not even to mention their additional partial season staff. Pioneer Theater Guild certainly puts on fantastic shows, but it cannot be denied that their productions would be impossible without all of the hired adult staff they have supporting their students.

At Skyline we are not asking to be given the amount of staff that Pioneer has. We are merely asking for staff that we do have to be given the salaries that they need and deserve, and for our program to be treated as fairly and seriously as the program at the other high school. I know I will be graduating in a few months, but I refuse to leave this program in shambles due to an unfair lack of attention from those in the district whose job it is to ensure that the school experience of every student is positive and educational.

I hope those in positions of power in this school district will realize letting this program go to waste is not only unfair, but also unwise. There is a whole crowd of current and past students who share this concern. Please do your duty to this district, and Skyline Theatre specifically, by helping us continue to offer a great program for future students.

Hannah Lehker is a Senior at Community and Skyline High Schools, as well as an active participant in the Skyline theater program.


Niraj Patel

Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 6:01 p.m.

Hey everyone, she said almost nothing about other schools. She only mentioned Pioneer as an example of what wonderful things happen with a paid staff. Her article is about the importance of theatre programs and is an appeal for the money to make a wonderful one. Chill out.

Hannah L

Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 7:16 p.m.

Exactly! If I had wanted to attack pioneer it would have been quite clear that I was doing so. As I mentioned to Jonathan I support the pioneer program and have many friends involved in it. Thanks for bringing that back!


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 3:12 a.m.

Keep in mind that Huron High School's barely existent theater program, receives even less then Skyline. Pioneer's theater program earn's a majority of their rights and privileges through their outstanding ticket sales and loyal fan base. While Skyline manages to put on a large-scaled Musical and go to competition every year, Huron theater can barely scrape together their earning to provide their thespians a fair share of artistic opportunities.

Beth S

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 7:54 p.m.

As a parent who has been involved in meetings with Skyline staff and administrators regarding this issue, I think it's important the public understand this isn't about the pay level for one part-time staff person. Nor is it about the booster club fundraising abilities of a well-known and respected theater program vs. a new high school program seeking to establish it's own following among the public ...It's about the number of part-time positions funded by the public school system to support each schools' theater program. Concerned students and parents at Skyline were told that the Pioneer theater program currently has one full-time teacher charged with leading theater classes. In addition, Pioneer has two half-time staff supporting the theater program by serving in production and technical manager roles. They are paid AAPS salary for their half-time positions as well as receiving supplemental pay from the District for their other half-time work after school hours. Pioneer therefore has the equivalent of 2 full-time theater staff in addition to the theater teacher. Skyline only added the 10-hour per week staff position of Mr. Baillio this fall. For the past four years, the theater program has been run by the amazing energy of one full-time theater teacher. (Thanks Anne Marie!) So the District only pays for a 0.25 staff position in support of the theater teacher, while Pioneer receives District funding for 2.0 staff positions in addition to the theater teacher. All Skyline theater boosters are asking is that the District start to pay its fair share of the cost by expanding Mr. Baillio's position to one full-time job. Even if it did that, Skyline would still have only half the theater support staff that Pioneer currently has.


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 12:08 a.m.

Sorry, Beth, but it appears you have been misinformed about how the staffing works at Pioneer. Pioneer's acting teacher only teaches one acting class (the rest of his classes are English classes) and has nothing to do with the Theatre Guild program after school at all. There are no other theatre classes offered at Pioneer, so in essence there is no solely-theater teacher. The two staff that run Theatre Guild are supplementally paid; they are not half-time employees but share the same supplemental pay amount that the director of Skyline's program gets paid. It's not a "staff position" at all; it's considered "supplemental" and it's very complicated. The only full-time staff who works for Pioneer Theatre Guild works for the building all day and theatre guild in the afternoons. That job allows for two-three hours a day for technically directing theatre guild, the rest of the day is scheduling and building related. The majority of her job is spent running district-wide events in the auditorium and doing the secretarial work of scheduling all of the rooms in the building. Whether or not Skyline needs to create an equivalent position (for running events, scheduling, & theatre) is up to that building's administration. But there are no full-time jobs associated with Pioneer Theatre Guild alone. As far as the other staff at Theatre Guild, they split the exact same supplemental pay (school-board appointed pay that works in the same way as paying coaches for sports) that Skyline gets for any non-program-director. Since that pay does not adequately pay the PTG staff for their work, that's where the ticket sales make up the difference. There appear to be a lot of confusing information out there, and I don't think that the four schools are in communication with each other about their programs. So it may be best to talk to the theater directors at all of the high schools directly to get the clearest idea of how each program runs with the money the district


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 6:25 p.m.

Hannah, As a Pioneer Theatre Guild staff member, let me start by saying that we over at Pioneer feel your pain. We also have felt the strain of a low budget (which gets cut further every year) and a staff that's underpaid. We are all in Mr. Baillio's shoes - only one member of our staff gets paid a normal salary with benefits, and that's only because she has an additional full-time job with the district. The rest of us have to work other jobs in addition to our PTG jobs to supplement our income. Every year, like Mr. Baillio, we have to each decide if we can afford to keep our jobs at Pioneer. The only way that we can support the staff we have is through ticket sales. The district funds (which Skyline, Pioneer, Community, and Huron get the exact same amount of) only pay partial salaries for a few of our employees. All of the rest are solely paid through ticket sales. We've had to build our program to include very popular shows and do 5 shows per year just so we can break even. We would love, like you, to know that our staff's jobs are secure from year to year, but unfortunately that's not the case. I appreciate your desire to keep your program going and your plea for more district funds to be allocated to the arts, which would benefit us all. It definitely is a good conversation starter, and hopefully will change people's opinions when they vote to cut arts funding in the district.


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 3:14 a.m.

I agree


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 12:18 a.m.

Hello again, Hannah, I am not sure where you got your information, but we don't get money from alumni or community contributions. We recently started a campaign to raise funds in that way, but not to much success (needless to say, many in our community have had to tighten their belts recently). Our main source of contributions from the community come from advertising in our play programs, which the families of the Theatre Guild students sell. So it's definitely more in the category of fund-raising or even "selling", and not gifts. Maybe Skyline could try something similar? I do appreciate your passion to keep theater staff and programs going. Good luck and hope you guys can get more technical staff somehow . I think that well-supported theater across the district can only help us all.

Hannah L

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

It is definitely true that Pioneer raises a lot of money through ticket sales and community contributions. But the contributions are largely from alumni, or locals that have supported the program for years. The only skyline alumna are currently taking on huge amounts of debt and are therefore unable to contribute. A for ticket sales, Skyline cannot hope to draw audiences the size of those at Pioneer if we don't have the staff necessary to put on a show of that caliber. I have also heard that the district has considered consolidating all the theater programs into one- a proposal which would entirely go against why skyline was built. No matter what the specific argument, however, I'm sure we can all agree that art programs everywhere not only need but also deserve better funding!

Hannah L

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

Jonathan, you will notice that I never said that Pioneer got more funding. I just stated that they put on strong productions largely due to their large support network. As a new program we don't have that kind of support yet, so our program does need support in order to stay functioning. This article was in no way meant to be an attack on Theatre Guild; I have gone to many Pioneer Productions and have many friends in the program. I believe that all theater programs should support each other, especially as the arts are so grossly under appreciated today.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

A deep thank you Hannah, for this article. This is QUITE kind!

Jonathan J.-W.

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 : 10:45 p.m.

The widely circulated perception that Pioneer Theatre Guild receives more funds from AAPS than the other three high schools is a myth and patently untrue. The theatre programs of Pioneer, Skyline, Huron, and Community High Schools receive the exact same five-digit annual amount from the school district. Any differences in budget capabilities can be accounted for by individual program fundraising, ticket sales, and parent/community support. While Pioneer Theatre Guild and Skyline Theatre have the exact same funding from the school district, the former operates with a higher budget thanks to excellent fundraising, solid ticket sales, and sterling parental/community support. It may be fine to defend a struggling theatre program like Skyline's, but please refrain from unfair and false accusations.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:38 p.m.

This was not a column attacking another h.s., but rather a hope to defend a good-hearted man who cares about the art and wants the same pay for him that other Ann Arbor faculty receive in other schools. It appears that most of the comments you leave on other articles attack the columnist as well. Find a different hobby; one of love and kindness.


Fri, Feb 1, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Or put another way, Pioneer benefits from the fact that it's the oldest major high school, has the longest history, and has had many, many years to build a program. It's now in a position to draw the life out of the other schools, pulling away theater students because of Pioneer's program. I do hope the administration looks at outside sources of funding when they discuss which programs can afford budget cuts. Need-based funding may be appropriate, or the most well-endowed programs will have unfair advantages.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 9:11 p.m.

Well reasoned and persuasive letter, Ms. Lehker. I hope the administration and board take notice.