NAPLES — Twenty years ago, Pam Grabczynski directed “Rehearsal for Murder” at Barron Collier High School. Last weekend, Chris Johnston, her friend and current drama teacher at BCHS, directed the same play and dedicated it to Grabczynski who is retiring at the end of this year.
Johnston and Grabczynski discovered early in their friendship that they were coincidentally involved in separate performances of “Rehearsal for Murder” around the same time 20 years ago. According to Johnston, this coincidence inspired her to choose to present it again.
“It was just one of those epiphanies that you have and it was just so perfect, so that’s what we did,” Johnston said.
Three former students from Grabczynski’s original production attended the school’s show last Friday night.
“Theater kids are family and you don’t lose that connection one you’ve made that connection,” Grabczynski said.
“That’s kind of how theater people are,” Grabczynski continued, shifting her gaze to the students warming up on stage beneath the bright lights. “They create families and every show you do is another little family and that doesn’t go away.”
This sense of community was reinforced by the openness of the students and the affection they voiced for Johnston and Grabczynski.
Kelsey Ward, an actress in the play, said, “I thought it was really sweet of Ms. J and it’s just like her to do something like that, to do something for another person. It just, I don’t know, reiterates everything she’s ever taught us about compassion for each other and for all our fellow thespians.”
“I have to tell you how generous she is,” Grabczynski said, echoing Ward’s sentiment.
Grabczynski recalled when she was trying to raise her teenage son, run the drama program, participate in extracurricular activities, and take the drama students to competitions all at the same time. Johnston stepped in to fill the role of drama teacher after Grabczynski’s five years at the head of the program but still encouraged Grabczynski to direct three shows every year and a half.
“I did three shows I really wanted to do, had always wanted to do, and all I had to do was direct, and I had her support,” Grabczynski said. “I didn’t have to worry about the rest of it and it was such a gift.”
Annabelle O’Neil, another actress in the play, said, “It’s just so funny that these two people who mean so much to me, and apparently they mean so much to each other. It’s just a very strange coincidence.”
Featuring the play again is one of many reoccurrences, Johnston said. The father of a student involved in last weekend’s play had friends who were in the 20-year-old version. Johnston’s brother-in-law, a Marine, was overseas in the Gulf War during the older show and now his younger son, also a Marine, will be overseas during the most recent production at BCHS.
In light of these parallels, Johnston described the whole experience as “full circle.”
“People think that symbols only occur in books or movies,” Johnston said. “In reality, it’s in your life if you’re looking, and that’s been an interesting lesson.”
Katharina Tuttle, drama club president at BCHS, said, “I don’t think we’ve ever done a show that has this much meaning behind it and this much inspiration, and to have such a challenging piece and to work so hard for it, it means 20 times… you can’t even put a value on it.”