Mark Daniels helping make memories to last a lifetime
“God gave us memories,” novelist J.M Barrie once said, “so that we could have roses in December.”
Barrie introduced Peter Pan, a timeless boy bursting with dreams and joy. With the help of happy thoughts and pixie dust, the boy and his shadow crossed worlds and time to take all to Neverland. It was Peter Pan who could provide memories and courage. It was Peter Pan who Barrie wanted youth to remember, maybe emulate.
Flash forward from the 1920s to 2018, from Scotland’s Loch Lomond to the high school nestled under North Ogden’s Ben Lomond. Replacing J.M. Barrie as a mentor to the youth stands Mark Daniels, productions director at Weber High. He too echoes the words to remember and cherish memories, preaching to his students every year that meaningful experiences will provide light when its dark.
Regarding his favorite quote, Daniels says “We talk on opening and closing night about roses in December. I tell the kids that they are making memories that will last the rest of their life. Those memories will keep them going sometimes. When you are down, think of these highs and what you feel and think about how hard you worked to get here and this moment.”
Daniels is a Weber graduate (1987) and knows the value of the theater in the community. For 13 years Daniels has stood behind the curtains for countless musicals and plays for hundreds of students in Pleasant View, North Ogden, or the Ogden Valley. Year after year, the students summon the courage to create a memory: they shake insecurity, they develop a talent, they perform on a stage.
“This has always been my philosophy: I don’t teach or direct to create actors. I’d rather have a kid find out who they are and follow their own passions and use theater as a vehicle to do that. I want them to gain self-esteem, to gain confidence. My hope is that they become better people, better individuals. I want them to find out who they are and what their dreams are.”
Throughout 22 total years of teaching, Daniels has inspired confidence, but also helped mold some fine talent along the way.
He reflects to his first teaching gig, Hillcrest High School in the Salt Lake area, where he had two students eventually make it to Broadway to play in Wicked and Mama Mia. Sitting in the audience in New York for these performances was Mr. Daniels. He remembers talented casts from each year, but holds a fondness toward 2010’s Aida and that magical performance and crew. Off the top of his head, Daniels then recounts those from Weber High who went on to perform or pursue the arts post high school.
Patrick Ulrich is getting a master’s degree in Theatre Arts and Design where he wants to be a professor one day. Connor Padilla is getting his master’s degree, too, down in Florida and wants to be teaching and acting in the arts throughout his life. Lindsay Farr, he remembers, starred in LDS films, and Cheryl Davis got her degree in vocal performance. Name after name is also echoed of those who continued to act in theatre companies like Pickleville Playhouse or stages in Salt Lake.
But on the other hand, his favorite memory in all of teaching, doesn’t necessarily connect back to a rising star. Or, perhaps it does, just not in the way you might think.
Daniel Wahlquist, from North Ogden, is a student with disabilities who had trouble communicating. That didn’t stop Daniel from participating wholeheartedly in school life. As he entered the windowless walls of Weber, he took Mr. Daniel’s Theatre One class all three of his years at Weber.
During one unit, the class had to pantomime a story, which calls for gestures, physicality, and movement instead of speech. Daniel was so active in the lesson and units for the entire month and eagerly performed his pantomime of a fishing trip for the class.
Daniel went through all the motions, down to the trivial. His alarm went off, he got up, he got dressed, he packed his tackle box, and he drove to the lake (Mr. Daniels still remembers that he pantomimed driving on the passenger side of the car since that’s the only part of a car that Daniel knew and was used to). Once at the lake, he got out, cast in his line, tried to reel in a big fish, realized it wasn’t a fish but a boot. He then took the boot off, put it on his foot, and laughed. Daniel then pantomimed himself catching a little fish, being excited, then packing up his tackle box, and heading home to bed.
“It was a really simple pantomime,” Mr. Daniels recalls, “but he was so proud of it. He used this skit to audition for our competition team, made it, performed it again, and then qualified for state. He had a big grin on his face after every performance which made the entire process worth it. He communicated through the way that he could, and he loved it.”
Like Daniel, many other students are challenged out of their comfort zone when they enter Mr. D’s lair.
“I’ve always believed that if you put something out there for them to achieve, they will achieve it. If you set the bar high, they will rise above it.” Mr. Daniels then points out, “We’ve done some big shows over the years that other schools don’t have the energy to tackle, but we do a quality piece of work and the community supports it.”
Starting at Weber High in 2007, his first production was Thoroughly Modern Millie, Daniels has helped create plays and musicals that dazzle the Weber High student body and the Weber community.
There was Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat with Cosmo the Camel as a star figure. “Yes, a live camel,” Daniels remembers, “walking everyday through the math hall to get onto the stage. And not one accident.”
Or, Singin’ In the Rain, which produced 500 gallons of water raining down on the stage within every performance. “Hope the audience couldn’t hear the sump pump backstage,” Daniels says.
There were 44,000 Micro LED lights to create an Under the Sea world for the Little Mermaid and fairy dust and magic umbrellas that allowed characters to fly in Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. And don’t forget about White Christmas, where it actually snowed in the auditorium. “Hope you didn’t catch it on your tongue,” Daniels says, “it tasted like soap.”
Yet, Daniels still attests that “none of the special effects can hold a candle to the amount of talent that comes out of the students at Weber High. Without the amazingly talented students on stage, the special effects would be pointless. It’s really the kids that shine!”