Roy C. Ketcham High School’s Masque and Mime Society Has Been Launching the Careers of Actors for 50 Years

A high school theatre club celebrates 50 years of lights, camera, and action

If you were impressed by D.B. Woodside’s portrayal of the courageous President Wayne Palmer on the hit television series 24, you may be surprised to learn that he honed his acting chops right here in the Hudson Valley.

Of course those who are familiar with the Masque & Mime Society, the drama club at Roy C. Ketcham High School in Wappingers Falls, wouldn’t be shocked at all. That’s because the esteemed club has been launching the careers of actors and other theatre professionals for 50 years now, including those of Andy Elman (’86), who helped make Spider-Man fly on Broadway, and Dan Walker (’86), a lighting designer who worked on the production of Macbeth that starred Alan Cumming.

It’s remarkable when you consider that Ketcham has just one theatre class per semester — not a full-fledged program — and that the Masque & Mime Society is an extra-curricular club that meets and rehearses after school. The official anniversary celebration will be held Saturday, July 18, at the Ramada Inn in Fishkill.

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Though she won’t say so herself, Masque & Mime’s ongoing success is due in large part to Rosemary Evaul, the club’s adviser since 1982. The club was started in the 1964-65 school year by Delores “Dee” Bove, a theatre and English teacher. “Her program was extremely successful,” Evaul recalls. The club kicked off with The Teahouse of the August Moon and went from success to success, winning awards and being written up in papers. But the club lost its creative inspiration when Bove developed lung cancer and was forced to retire.

rosemary evaul rosemary evaul

Suit up: Evaul keeps costumes, props, and more in a large barn on her property

Evaul, also an English teacher, took over. Fellow teacher Jim Steinmeyer also became an adviser and was an outstanding director and set and lighting designer for many years before moving on to teach theatre and direct at Marist College in Poughkeepsie.

Evaul retired from teaching in 1997 but stayed on as the club’s paid adviser, a position she now shares with her husband, Robert “Denny” Evaul. Mr. and Mrs. E., as the kids call them, now oversee the production of one musical and one comedy or drama every year. They chaperone road trips for enriching theatrical experiences, including the yearly pilgrimage to see a Broadway play, and the New York State Theatre Education Association’s Student Conference, a three-day extravaganza of classes on acting techniques, set design, directing, and more. The Evauls truly go the extra mile: there’s even a barn on their property to house a huge collection of props and costumes.

“This drama club goes beyond just putting on a play,” says Maria Cohen (’89), who appeared in a production of The Diary of Anne Frank. She played Miep Gies, the Dutchwoman who helped hide Anne Frank’s family during World War II.

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When Evaul heard Gies was speaking on Long Island, she organized a school trip. “I got to meet Miep Gies,” recalls Cohen, who went on to have a successful career in television production. “She said we were sisters. I will never forget that moment.”

d.b. woodside
Actor D.B. Woodside (’87), known for his portrayal of President Wayne Palmer on 24, performed in several Masque & Mime productions, including The Music Man

Back at Ketcham, Evaul organized a sleepover at the theatre, imposing two hours of utter silence so that students could get an idea of how difficult it would be to remain quiet for even that small period of time.

Evaul has led lots of fun road trips. “When we were in production for The Crucible we took the cast and crew on a field trip to Salem, Massachusetts, to visit the sites of the witchcraft trials and cemetery where some of these people were buried,” says Evaul. “Then the year we did Talley’s Folly we took the whole cast and crew on the road to Canada to a theatre festival there. It had to be the hottest summer in the history of Canada. We even had to transport our set across the border. That is a fine memory.”

This is the kind of creativity that helped the Masque & Mime Society win the Dutchess County Executive’s Arts Award for outstanding Arts in Education in 2012. Then in 2013, Evaul won an Ally Award from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network after staging The Laramie Project and Laramie, two plays about the brutal 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming.

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The awards are welcome, of course. But Evaul is most gratified by the success of students like Susan Checklick (class of ’93), who is a successful wardrobe supervisor on Broadway. Checklick is currently working on The River with Hugh Jackman, and a few years ago invited Evaul for a backstage tour of Aida. “She let me touch the costumes,” says Evaul.

“And Susan has come to talk to my kids,” she says, “to let them know there is a career in the theatre — if you’re willing.”

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