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Mark Pennington − a Thirty-Year Career and a Lasting Legacy

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F. W. Springstead High School’s recent production of “The Wizard of Oz” brought to a close music instructor Mark Pennington’s thirty-year teaching career−all of it spent at that school. Besides teaching choir and technical theatre, Pennington has directed numerous musicals featuring the students. Among these have been “School House Rock, Live,” “Frozen,” and “Peter Pan.” His favorite was “Oklahoma.”

He studied music at Stetson University in Deland, Florida and, upon graduation, was hired by former Springstead principal Susan Duval. Mentoring and inspiring students during his lengthy career has been rewarding in so many ways for Pennington. “Watching former students succeed on Broadway and performing all over the world, as well as giving students the opportunity to perform on Springstead Theatre’s stage, are two of the most satisfying aspects of my job,” said Pennington.

The large ensemble of two casts practiced for eight weeks to perfect their performance. Having two casts allowed more students to participate and also gave the students the opportunity to have a break from having to perform in seven shows−day and evening.

The cast members ranged in age from six years of age to eighteen years of age. There was even one adult member of the cast. On the other hand, this mélange presented some challenges for Pennington.

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“We had twenty-five elementary and middle school students in this production. This required many extra hours of rehearsal because they get out of school later [than the high school students],” he remarked. However, one of the bonuses of having such a wide range of ages was that it gave the high school students an opportunity to assist the younger children and pass on their expertise.

I had the privilege of being part of an audience made up of probably four hundred elementary school students. The children were more than just attentive. They were enthralled by the show, laughing, clapping enthusiastically, and booing at the appropriate times.

The costumes were inventive and colorful. The digital backdrops provided an imaginative method of creating Dorothy’s home in Kansas, Munchkin Land and the Emerald City. An especially clever touch was having four children dressed in yellow each wearing a letter to spell out the word “Road.” The yellow brick road, get it.

Eleventh grader Hailley Cooper plays Dorothy. Although this is her first time in a lead role, she has been acting for many years and it shows by her flawless performance and her crystal clear singing voice.

“It was a challenge getting everybody here at the same time so we could all practice together. We have good teamwork, and one of the best things was getting to share this play with everybody because we all love theatre so much,” Hailley remarked.

Acting is a family affair for Hailley, as her younger brother, Tommy, plays the Tin Man. Although Tommy is only in the fifth grade, he has had extensive acting experience. He’s at the age where his voice hasn’t changed yet and his soprano tone is pitch-perfect.

“The most difficult part was to remember all the lines, so my mom helped me after school every day by writing flashcards with my lines on them,” said Tommy.

Sanya Robinson portrays the Wicked Witch of the West. The twelfth grader has been involved in theatre since kindergarten. Some of the plays she performed in at Springstead were “A Christmas Carol,” “School of Rock, Live” and “Peter Pan.” “It was challenging for me because I never got to play a villain before. I really had to embody the character and figure out how to make myself more extreme. I like that I get to see things from a different perspective,” Sanya stated.

Twelfth grader Kalealani Nicolini plays the Scarecrow. Kalealani is a veteran actor having performed since the age of three. And she’s a triple threat. She sings, dances, and acts. The best part of the show for Kalealani, was that she got to follow in her older sister’s footsteps. “My sister performed this same part when she was at Springstead so it was ‘how can I make myself as good as she was?’ She’s my biggest role model.”

Kalealani studied a video of that performance and her sister helped her out, as well. “It’s so nice to act with my friends, especially since this is my senior year. It’s a memory I’ll always cherish,” Kalelealani added.

Senior Tristan Conway played the Cowardly Lion. Like most of the others he’s had a lot of experience on stage, having played Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol” this past December and the lead in “School House Rock ,Live.” Tristan’s biggest challenge in this role was the heavy costume.

“You get sweaty and you get drained quickly. It’s challenging to maintain the energy and maintain the character. It takes stamina. The most fun is being a part of something that is so classic and taking my own interpretation of the role,” Tristan stated.

Kellin Simpson portrayed Toto, wearing the most adorable dog costume. The first grader has been on stage before in dance competitions and other shows at Springstead. Kellin remarked, “I liked that I get to bark a lot and it’s fun dancing.”

Jason McNerney, known as Coach Mac to his students, teaches Social Studies at Springstead. He plays the part of the Wizard and has acted in high school, college and here at Springstead. He portrayed Jacob Marley in last year’s “A Christmas Carol.” “I loved meeting the students and getting to know them on a more personal basis, build relationships, and hear their stories. I’ve met some really great kids. It’s wonderful to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” McNerney remarked.

And this is how Pennington must feel−being a part of something bigger than himself, molding young people and leaving behind a lasting legacy. Whoever takes Pennington’s place will have some big shoes to fill. Meanwhile, the soon-to-be-retired teacher will be busy building a house in New Smyrna Beach for his wife, Patty, and staying busy with his two grown children, Cassondra and Evan, and his two grandchildren…and starting a new phase of his life.

Residents of Munchkin Land [Courtesy photo]
Residents of Munchkin Land [Courtesy photo]

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