Inglewood’s Morningside High School (MHS) had not had a drama department for more than a decade but that changed in September of 2010, when Joshua Grant-Konegni was hired as the new director of the school’s department of theater.
“I found an opening for the position online. I was working in the drama department at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts but was laid off due to budget cuts. Out of more than 50 instructors interviewed, I was chosen. I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time. Many teachers don’t like where they are and only stay in it for the paycheck, but there is no place that I would rather be. When I look at these students and see all that they are capable of, I feel rejuvenated.
Almost immediately after Grant-Konegni was hired, a few Morningside High alumni including Sherrie Stelik, and Ileen and John Vance stepped forward to help rebuild the dormant drama department. Stelik immediately contacted some of her old MHS fine arts friends, many of whom were more than happy to step up to the task of helping rebuild the department by donating hundreds of needed items including costumes, props, raw materials, labor and more.
One of the grads contacted was Marilyn Basaker, who makes her living as a costume designer. At the time, Basaker was working on the sixth and final season of the HBO hit series “Big Love” and was able to put Stelik in touch with Chrisi Karvonides, the show’s costume designer, who embraced the project and pledged to help however she could.
After a couple of e-mail exchanges, the “Big Love” production company delivered directly to Grant-Konegni at MHS a truck load of costumes, material, notions and clothing racks valued at more than $25,000. Costumes and boxes now line the drama classroom and auditorium.
The Charles Schwab Foundation also donated $13,000 to the Morningside drama department, enabling them to pull out all the stops for its first production in a decade. According to Grant-Konegni, the set, programs, tickets, costumes and props are comparable to productions that he has seen on Broadway, and he is confident his students will deliver.
“When I first got to the school, the drama room was this big empty roach-infested room covered in graffiti, and in six and a half months we have made an amazing turnaround,” said Grant-Konegi, adding, “The show is looking fabulous. The students are really excited. It is a big event for Morningside and for the Inglewood School District.”
The production that the department is putting on is the “Laramie Project” by Moisés Kaufman and it is about the reaction to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming gay student Matthew Shepard. The murder was denounced as a hate crime motivated by homophobia and brought attention to the lack of hate crimes laws in various states.
“When I got here [Morningside], I noticed that homosexual students weren’t really accepted. I have even had students confide in me that they are struggling with their sexuality and it seemed to me that doing this play would be a good idea.
“My hope is that by doing this piece, it will start a dialogue on campus. It will cause students to start having these courageous conversations because right now, not just at Morningside, but all over, people are too concerned with political correctness. Its about more than homosexuality, it is about human rights.
“One student said to me ‘my brother is gay, and I didn’t accept him, but after reading the play in class I decided to open my heart to him.’ If nothing else comes from this other than changing one heart, I still believe that we accomplished something amazing,” said Grant-Konegni.
The show plays today at 3:15 and 7 p.m.; Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 6 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Laramie Project will be presented in the Flo Hyman Theatre located on the Morningside High campus at 10500 S. Yukon Ave. in Inglewood.
Tickets are available at the box office prior to the show: $10 for adults and $5 for students with a valid student ID. Please be advised that the production contains mature subject matter and strong language.