(COVINGTON, La.) — Since Denny Charbonnet stepped onto the campus of St. Paul’s School in 1987, she has transformed a dormant theatre program into a thriving experience for the entire community.
The origins of the current theatre program can traced back to 1987 when former English teacher Judy Lacour approached Charbonnet with the idea of pitching the program to then-Principal Bro. Ray Bulliard, FSC.
“I came to him and presented my concept for a theatre program, which he accepted,” Charbonnet said, and she has been managing the theatre program ever since.
During her first year at St. Paul’s, she taught one class, and three productions were produced that year.
“My first show, we had maybe 15 people come to audition,” Charbonnet said. “We did ‘The Odd Couple,’ and the show was a big hit. The next show we did was ‘M*A*S*H.’ We had 40-plus (audition), and then ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was 40-plus, plus (audition). It really grew and grew.”
The audition turnout wasn’t the only thing that changed, however. In 1990, the St. Paul’s drama department officially became known as the “Marian Players.”
“(I chose that name) because of my personal devotion to the Blessed Mother,” Charbonnet said, “and my feeling that from the beginning, she had been interceding for us. I really felt that her presence and intercession for us was so strong.”
The Blessed Mother is mentioned in the Marian Players’ acknowledgements in the program for each show. On the back of each program is Mary’s 12 stars.
Over the years, Charbonnet has learned how to balance both her family life and the Marian Players.
“It was totally the grace of God, and starting off slowly was the important thing,” Charbonnet said. “The blessing was that (my children) were involved in theatre. Without that, it would not have worked. My son, Jean, was here at St. Paul’s and he got totally involved in the program. Elise (Angelette) was little at the time, and she used to come with me to rehearsals. She would wind up in the musicals later.”
Angelette currently designs and choreographs for the shows. Charbonnet’s son, Beau, was the assistant director for one year and also participated in the shows. Her grandchildren, as well, are now involved in drama.
Aside from her family, Charbonnet also has many hopes and aspirations for what her students will learn from theatre.
“It’s great for students and people to get that feeling of self-confidence,” Charbonnet said. “To develop a character (and) to be on stage in front of an audience gives you such a feeling of confidence.”
Many people have told Charbonnet that taking a theatre class was one of the best things they could’ve done in their time at St. Paul’s. Charbonnet attributes that to theatre’s ability to help performers overcome fear.
“80% of the population fear getting up in front of a group of people,” Charbonnet said, “more than they do death.”
Charbonnet also believes that theatre helps promote teamwork.
“(One of the most important things is) to learn to work together as an ensemble, for the people working on stage, backstage, working lights and sound,” Charbonnet said. “Every part of the production is important, whether you’re on the stage or backstage.”
Today, the theatre program is composed of three Theatre I classes taught by Marian Player alumna Heidi Scheuermann, and Theatre II and III, which are taught by Charbonnet.
Students from the Theatre I, II, and III produce one-act plays towards the end of the year for the community, and Theatre III participates in the annual “Passion Play.”
Aside from the classes, the Alumni Memorial Theatre, where the shows are performed, has been renovated during Charbonnet’s tenure. During the renovations, for one play, the Marian Players had to perform in the campus chapel.
“During the year of the renovation, 1998, (we found out the Theatre) wasn’t going to be ready until 1999,” Charbonnet said. “So we did ‘Becket,’ which worked out perfectly.”
Charbonnet has also helped several people, including Marian Player alumni, get into filmmaking.
“One of them works in New Orleans, one with his own company, I also have one who came back to help us with stage combat,” Charbonnet said. “His name is Mike Mayhall, and he has his own film company. I have another young man who helps with (productions on) Broadway, and I have a handful of other guys who went off and majored in film.”
In the end, Charbonnet has created a legacy that will live on. Current Marian Players appreciate Charbonnet and what she has done for them.
“(The Marian Players) have helped me further my skills, by teaching me to understand how characterization, language, and movement come together to make a show possible,” junior Christian Butler said. I’ve been given great advice and helpful criticism from Mrs. Charbonnet, (assistant director) Mr. Baumgartner, and Ms. Scheuermann.”
“Through the year, Ms. Denny and Marian Players have taught me how important it is for a team of artists to connect with each other,” Marian Player Hailey Bereziuk said. “The connection between the Marian Players under the strong direction of Ms. Denny is inevitable. Being a Marian Player has shown me different ways of looking at the world. Specifically, working under the influence of Mrs. Denny has helped me see all the vibrant experiences and mysteries which life has to offer.”