Ottawa West Public Schools Theater Celebrates 60 Years of Talent

The 1960s were a turbulent decade around the world: The Beatles recorded their first single, the “James Bond” films debuted, Disney World opened its doors, and we landed on the moon. It was during this time that the West Ottawa Theater came into existence and began the first of many years of entertainment.

In February, we reached an important milestone and celebrated the 60th anniversary of the West Ottawa Theatre. Sixty years of dedication and creativity have shaped WO Theater into an inclusive community that breeds inspiration and talent. We have to thank our talented students and the countless skills of professionals, community members, volunteers and members of the public for sustaining this program for 60 years. They are the ones who laid the foundation for our current and future success as we enter the final months of the school year.

Workers prepare the set for a West Ottawa Theater production.  The program celebrates its 60th anniversary.

At our most recent production of Puffs, a comedic tale of Harry Potter, we invited alumni of the program to stop by to share memories of how the West Ottawa Theater touched them. As director of this program, I have seen countless students grow into confident individuals, unafraid to adapt and express their identity. Theater teaches students a valuable set of skills, but if there’s one thing I hope for my students, it’s that they retain the confidence they’ve learned in theater for the rest of their lives.

We are grateful that the production and celebration had an incredible turnout, as it really reinforced that many families in the community appreciate the theater and all that it offers. We’ve even created a Facebook group to connect hundreds of WO Theater alumni, share photos and reminisce about the early days of the theatre. Whether you are a past member, volunteer or frequent attendee, this celebration was sentimental for everyone in our district.

Makeup in progress as part of the West Ottawa Theatre's 60th anniversary.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary, we also reflect on all that we have achieved together. My first year as director of the WO theater was in 2001, directing our production of Annie. Like any other newcomer, I was nervous, but excited to be challenged. Participating in this production was a powerful experience for many reasons, and the popularity of the play and the enthusiasm of the students made it even more exciting. From that first production, I knew I wanted to get involved in theater for my final years in West Ottawa.

Joe Huber

What makes this program truly special is the number of professionals, community members and parent volunteers who show up to build sets, lead lines and provide food while we rehearse. Since my first show, Cindy Beauchamp and Darlene Veenstra have been by my side on this journey. It’s true, the show couldn’t go on without our students, but it wouldn’t be possible without the production team and the volunteers who support us every step of the way.

Even after producing over 50 shows, the rewarding feeling of seeing everyone come together to bring a production to life never gets old. WO Theater is a family, and whether you’ve been in one show or 20, you’re still part of that family.

Workers prepare the set for a West Ottawa Theater production.  The program celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Over the past 20 years, my role as a theater manager has given me the opportunity to watch generations of students blossom into actors, directors, crew members, designers, theater boosters, singers and band members. orchestra to help make theater what it is. today.

But my 20s are only a third of the theatrical heritage here. Over 160 performances of titles like “The Hobbit”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Grease” and “The Sound of Music” have hit our stage since 1961, and we are grateful to all the theater alumni, the behind-the-scenes team and volunteers who contributed to our success.

The pit orchestra warms up.  The West Ottawa Theater celebrates its 60th anniversary.

The West Ottawa Theater has honored the community with years of talent and entertainment, in addition to preparing each participant to be ready for college, career and life. Our theater program is one of many that teaches students valuable skills they will use in their professional lives beyond high school and college.

Students are exposed to real-life situations in which they must demonstrate strong communication skills, creative problem-solving abilities, motivation, commitment, independence, teamwork, self-awareness and time management, to name a few. The inclusive culture we promote within our program has allowed us to establish a community where all students are invited to participate, express their creativity, meet new friends and ultimately grow.

Jon Huber taking notes as part of the West Ottawa Theatre's 60th anniversary.

Although I lead our students, their commitment is what drives our success, show after show. To everyone who has supported our efforts, we thank you for the past 60 years and we can’t wait for 60 more.

— Joe Huber is Theater Director for Ottawa West Public Schools.

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