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Retiring theatre teacher reflects on 30 years at Mesa Verde High School

A photo of Deni Scofield in front of the stage of Mesa Verde’s Performing Arts Center following an alumni improv showdown event on May 12. // S. Williams

By Sara Beth Williams–
After three decades of teaching at Mesa Verde High School, Theatre Director Deni Scofield will be retiring at the end of the 2022-23 school year, leaving behind a legacy of impact.

In 1993, when she began teaching English and theatre at Mesa Verde, Scofield said she was only allowed to teach theatre classes in her classroom for the first two years, before she was given permission to use a loft area on the second story of the school’s Performing Arts Center. Use of the stage, sound and lights board, and backstage area were still limited because the backstage area was being utilized in other ways by the district.

It would be over another decade before she became the high school’s full-time theatre teacher. After decades of annual plays and variety shows, interactive productions like the Mesa Verde Ghost Tour, and alumni improv shows, Scofield’s classroom is now the Performing Arts Center stage.

Backstage, a myriad of old production posters, student and alumni photos, and former production t-shirts grace the walls, showcasing the immense impact Scofield has had throughout her years at Mesa Verde.

Scofield’s impact has reached far beyond the local school community. Twenty-two years ago, she established a district-wide, inter-school comedy improv program where high school students formed improv teams and competed against other improv teams from other schools.

“It was super fun,” Scofield said of the program, adding that Comedy Sports actors came out to train and interact with high school students.

Over time, Scofield saw a need for elementary kids to learn theatre. After three years of conferring with the district, Scofield helped establish the Arts Explosion Summer Camp, a summer theatre arts camp for kids, which included classes in art, music, and theatre.

In 2007, Scofield began the Brian Wicks Theatre Scholarship program to honor a former theatre student who passed away in 2006. Since then, the school community — including students, staff, and alumni — have come together to raise money through alumni improv showdowns and bingo nights.

Scholarship funds are given to senior students passionate about theatre who apply for the scholarship through the school. Scofield promises to continue to be “active in raising money” for the scholarship program, ensuring it continues in her absence.

Scofield says she has her “fingers crossed” that one of her alumni students, who is also a theatre instructor elsewhere, will fill her shoes in the years to come.

Retirement will be busy for Scofield as she plans to continue working with the California Arts Project, a statewide, collaborative network of teachers with the goal to expand access to all forms of visual arts. She also plans to write more, and establish a website for other teachers with access to free plays.

Related: Meet this Mesa Verde High School alumni who’s now an actor

Chris Laird, a local film actor and Mesa Verde alumnus who recently participated in an alumni improv showdown on Friday night, said in an interview with The Sentinel that he would not have set foot on a professional movie set if not for Scofield’s influence both during high school and after graduation.

When asked about what her greatest accomplishment has been in the last thirty years of teaching, Scofield said she loves seeing her students graduating and continuing to be involved in theater, whether professionally or as a hobby.

“What better testament of your career of your passion?” Scofield said. “It was a calling for me, not a job.”

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