Christopher Ray appeared in his first theatrical production when he was a middle schooler in his native West Chester.

"I did it to impress a girl," he recalled, "and then I got the lead."

Thus, it was the young man, not the girl, on whom a strong impression was made.

Ray went on to perform in theatrical productions his junior and senior years in high school.

"It was immediate feedback from your director and my parents," he said. "In high school, it became my family, my second home."

Ray is hoping to create a familial, second-home kind of feeling at Whetstone High School as its drama teacher. After six years of building the drama program at West High School, Ray transferred for the 2018-19 academic year, replacing Tracy Wirthman, who now teaches English as a Second Language at the elementary level.

Whetstone principal Janet Routzong said she hopes Ray's arrival will herald an increased level of cooperation and integration among the arts at Whetstone, including the choir and music programs. She added she's already been impressed with Ray's approach to his work, and that the PTA has provided him with a $1,000 grant toward theatrical efforts.

"He brings a new level of enthusiasm that's just very refreshing," Routzong said. "He has captured students almost from the first day of school."

Ray, 30, who now lives in Blacklick, enrolled at Ohio State University after high school but didn't settle on a major immediately. He explored exercise science and business psychology -- the latter, he said, mostly to please his father, a lifelong employee of General Electric. Ray recalled trying out for a role in an OSU production of Lillian Hellman's play "The Children's Hour" his freshman year, not only landing the part but also being asked what theater classes he was taking.

"I thought, maybe this is where I need to go," Ray said.

After a less-than-rewarding internship with GE, Ray switched majors and eventually earned a master's degree in theater education.

Ray completed his student teaching at Linden-McKinley High School before landing at West High School and reviving what he said had become a moribund theater program.

"This opportunity opened up and it was kind of a no-brainer," he said.

Ray said the first production at Whetstone High School under his leadership will be a stage version of the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol."

"Scrooge's Christmas" will be staged Dec. 7 and 8 at Whetstone.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1