Dominion Middle School drama teacher Emily F. Whittaker won't accept average when it comes to the plays and musicals put on by her students.
One opinion she doesn't want to hear from audience members is, "That was great -- for a middle school."
"Mediocrity sucks," Whittaker said. "We don't do that. I'm a little harder on them than sometimes they would like, but it produces good results."
Whittaker, now in her fifth year as drama teacher at Dominion, also doesn't want to accept mediocrity when it comes to the setting for performances -- but that's been a tougher nut to crack due to the age of the building.
Dominion Middle School dates to 1956, she said.
Since Whittaker returned to the school -- where she was in the eighth grade the year the drama program was introduced -- she and the heads of the band and choir have worked to upgrade the auditorium. The sound system was completely overhauled with $10,000 raised through various efforts on the part of students, parents and faculty members.
Whittaker, her husband and her father refinished the stage.
"It was just awful," she said. "Kids were getting splinters every day in their fingers and their legs.
"Kind of piece by piece, we're improving this as we go."
Next up: the stage lighting system.
Much of it dates to when the school was new, Whittaker said.
"It's a monstrous, cumbersome thing," she said.
The control board for the stage lights is in the wrong place, she added. It's offstage right, so that when the curtains are pulled, the operator can't see what's going on.
"The control system for everything is original," Whittaker said.
The stage lights have been brought up to code thanks to a parent who is a lighting designer at Ohio State University, but what's needed is a totally new control board, preferably in a projection room at the back of the auditorium, she said.
"To do that, you have to rewire everything," Whittaker said.
Lighting technicians, who were absolutely fascinated by the out-of-date equipment, have estimated the project will cost around $9,000, she said.
Through ads in the programs for productions, a fundraising campaign and a grant from the Dreaming Zebra Foundation in Portland, Ore., about $3,000 of the needed amount has been raised, Whittaker said.
"It's not something that's going to happen with a snap of the fingers ... but I'm hoping for it in the next five years," she said.
Dominion is the only middle school in the district, aside from the Arts Impact Middle School, to still have a full-time drama teacher, Whittaker said. She's a strong believer, based on her own experiences at Dominion and later at the Fort Hayes Career Center and Columbus Alternative High School, that drama instruction can be of great benefit to students, she said.
"It really gives an opportunity for self-expression and creativity," Whittaker said. "It gives kids a way to express themselves and be more confident."
Anyone interested in helping with the effort to update the stage lighting in the auditorium may make donations by sending checks to the school, 330 E. Dominion Blvd., Columbus 43214, with the notation "Light up DMS" or "lighting fund." A separate account has been set up through the treasurer at the school for donations.
"It's not just for our productions," Whittaker said. "Our whole school meets in the auditorium every morning for town hall. It would be used by everyone."