News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

June 26, 2012

Happy Days here again

High schoolers revive TV sitcom in Performing Arts Workshop

TERRE HAUTE — At an early age, A.J. Contramaestre discovered his love for acting.

On Thursday, the Terre Haute North Vigo  High School student will portray Fonzie in “Happy Days,” a culminating theater production that is part of the annual Vigo County School Corp. Performing Arts Workshop.

The play is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Terre Haute South Vigo High School auditorium. Admission is free.

Contramaestre has prepared for his role by watching a lot of “Happy Days” re-runs on television and “standing in front of the mirror and practicing all of his looks and mannerisms,” he said during a break in practice Monday.

 Fonzie is “a leader of the pack. He’s the cool, confident guy you always go to for advice. He’s definitely the guy you want to be in your corner,” Contramaestre said just before he rushed back on stage for his next scene.

“Happy Days,” a sitcom that ran from 1974 to 1984, presented an idealized vision of life in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s.

Portraying Fonzie as part of the Performing Arts Workshop “is amazing. There are fewer joys in life that are better than this,” Contramaestre said.  

Thursday’s production culminates about four weeks of hard work, said Holly Pies, Vigo County School Corp. curriculum coordinator. About 40 high school students are participating in PAW, which gives them opportunities to perform, play in the orchestra or serve on the technical crew.

It’s a great opportunity for students interested in the performing arts, and the community anticipates the annual production, which has been going on for more than 20 years, Pies said.

“It really helps promote the arts in our community,” Pies said.

This is Karen Crispin’s second year as Performing Arts Workshop director. She’s directed plays at West Vigo High School since 2001.

“I love to do theater with teen-agers because I love to see how they grow through the rehearsal process,” she said. “There are so many things that they learn about themselves, and there are so many things they can learn that will be helpful for them later in life.”

Students learn how to present themselves to others and they learn how to handle things quickly, she said.

“When you do live theater, you never know what’s going to happen next,” Crispin said. “Sometimes it rolls the way you planned, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

The students have a lot to learn in a short time, she said. In 17 days, they have to learn their lines, the music and choreography. “They are doing great. They are getting more fun to watch all the time,” she said.

The biggest challenge, she said, “is to get them out of their comfort zone. Like I’ve been telling them today, they need to really bring it on and sell it.”

That happens best the night of the performance, she said. When they are in front of the audience, “They come to life.”

Other program staff are Ricardo Hutchins, who is over the technical crew, and A.J. Dinkel, who is the musical director.

Catherine Rink, who will be a North Vigo junior next year, is participating in the Performing Arts Workshop for the seventh time this year (in past years, the program included middle school students).

In “Happy Days,” she portrays Marion Cunningham, mother of Richie and Joanie. She enjoys the play experience because she gets to meet students from other schools and work with different directors. It’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work.

 Every year, “It seems like it won’t come together  — but it ends up coming together,” Rink said.

This year, the Performing Arts Workshop is sponsored by the Vigo County Education Foundation, which has provided $8,000 in funding.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or

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