To hear Phil Hoagland tell it, the Seneca High School Senior Musical might have been one of the defining moments of his life. And if you ask around, you’ll find he speaks for a good number of the school’s alumni.
“Seneca, for a long time, was the place in Louisville to go see musicals. Before there was an Iroquois Amphitheatre or a Broadway Series or even the Kentucky Center.”
Beginning in 1961, with “Annie Get Your Gun”, and continuing until 2009’s performance of “Oliver!”, Louisville’s Seneca High School was one of the city’s main sources for quality musical theater. For over five decades, the senior class performed classic Broadway standards such as “West Side Story,” “South Pacific!” and “Grease.”
Traditionally, the musicals were staged the Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, with the final performance routinely drawing hoards of delighted alums.
C. Eugene Stickler, a focused and demanding educator, beloved by his students, served as the school’s drama teacher until 1989 and directed the majority of the school’s 49 senior musicals. In honor of his accomplishments, Seneca named its school theater after Stickler upon his retirement.
But then in 2010, a senior musical was not staged for the first time in close to 50 years. Due to a lack of funds, as well as statewide curriculum changes that made it more challenging for students to fit in electives such as drama, the decision was made to let the Thanksgiving tradition fade away.
Says Hoagland, “It needs to come back for so many reasons.”
Years after performing in the 1988 production of “The Wiz”, Hoagland was asked to return to Seneca as the school’s drama instructor. He held the position from 1994 to 2010, with hopes of teaching others how much impact a simple school play could have on their lives.
In addition to basic stagecraft and acting skills, Hoagland learned, “life skills like working together to achieve a huge goal, and the value of hard work and friendships.”
Added Hoagland, “If the experience is a good one, it will enrich [the students] lives in ways they can’t possibly imagine now and won’t fully appreciate until twenty years down the road.”