Vail’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs provide students with opportunities to gain job skills, certifications, and even employment out of high school. And, the programs certainly set students up with a launching pad to pursue advanced certifications, degrees, and professions. Vail’s CTE programs are an integral part of helping students to create their own stories.

Vail Voice CTE Feature: Technical Theatre

If you’ve been to a theatre performance at Empire High School, you’ve probably seen the incredible sets, lighting, and makeup and thought it was professionally done. Well, that’s because the technical theatre program at Empire is just that: professional.

Richard Gremel has been teaching the theatre classes at Empire for the 14 years the school has been open. They have been named the #1 High School Theatre Department in Southern Arizona on multiple occasions, and they have won countless other awards. This success is because of Gremel’s motto, “We are not a high school theatre department. We are a theatre department in a high school.”

Gremel’s students are successful in their acting competitions, but the theater program is so much more. Students in the Technical Theatre program design sets, scenes, costumes, props, and more. The program is giving students real-world theatre experience, along with problem-solving and teamwork skills.

Students who participate in this program also leave the program with OSHA 10 certification, a workplace safety and health certification. Further, many students who have completed Mr. Gremel’s program have gone on to pursue remarkable careers in the industry.

Former Student: Connor McKinley Griffin

When asked about his theatre experience in high school, Connor McKinley Griffin could go on and on. In fact, he credits Empire’s theatre program for a lot of his success.

Connor graduated from Empire in 2015. He earned his Bachelor’s in Musical Theatre from the University of Arizona and now works in Chicago as an actor. You may have seen him in the television show, Chicago Med, and he has a movie coming out soon that he can’t say too much about yet.

Although Connor is a successful actor in Chicago now, he says he misses being at Empire because of the amazing tools and space they have access to. Connor says technical theatre was vital because he didn’t get the technical experience in college.

“I think without Richard’s CTE class, I wouldn’t have the skills required to be the artist that I am today,” Connor says. “It gives you so many wonderful aspects of being creative in today’s climate that really is a necessity.”

He says other high school theatre programs don’t give students the levels of complexity that Empire provides and it set him up well for his career.

Way to go, Connor! Vail is so proud of you!

Current Student: Connor Carney

Connor Carney is a current Empire senior in the Technical Theatre program. He chose Empire partly for academics, but mainly for the theatre program. He’s in his fourth year of the program and says it’s been the best part of his high school experience.

He originally went into the theatre department for acting, which he still does, but through the program he found his passion for designing sets.

As a set designer, Connor says he’s learned how to be creative and pay attention to detail. He says he will take these skills with him throughout life. The fact that the class is at more of a professional level allows students to gain real world theatre experience.

“I think the main difference between our program and others is the emphasis on community building, while keeping it professional,” said Connor. “It’s just a great environment.”

Though he plans to study biology and eventually go to Medical School, he says theatre will always be a part of his life. He might minor in theatre in college and plans to participate in community theatre in his free time.

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