This is definitely the first time people are encouraged to bring squirt guns and toast into the San Marcos High School theater.
Longtime teacher David Holmes is living up to his 30-year-old promise that his retirement show will be the campy musical The Rocky Horror Show. He started teaching in the early 1980s after taking over from one of his mentors, Santa Barbara theater legend Marjorie Luke.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show was 10 years old and his high school students begged him to make it the school’s next musical, he said. The cult show was in full swing, with theater showings featuring costumes, callback lines and props.
“It was very contemporary then, and very naughty and very racy,” he told Noozhawk.
Holmes told his students he would do it, but not for spring — it would be his retirement show.
“I never really intended to do Rocky Horror, it was the most outrageous show I could suggest,” he said.
It’s still not appropriate for high school, in his opinion, so he had the idea to make it an all-alumni show, bringing back former students from all over the country to perform together on their old high school stage.
He sat down his students one day and told them, he said.
“I said, ‘OK you guys, I’m going to tell you two truths and one lie,’” he recalled. “I said, ‘My retirement show is going to be Rocky Horror, next year’s spring musical is going to be Les Misérables, and I am not retiring.’ I let them squirm with that for a while.”
Holmes, now 60, caught the theater bug early, after writing a play in fourth grade. He grew up in the small town of St. Helena in Napa Valley and was involved in theater throughout junior high and high school. After graduating, he created a few theater companies with friends but eventually decided the lifestyle of a professional actor wasn’t for him.
Holmes attended UC Santa Barbara, became a student teacher and then the full-time theater teacher at San Marcos.
When he was hired, Holmes had never directed a musical and couldn’t even keep time, but it was tradition to have a big spring musical every year. He chose Oklahoma! that first year, he remembers.
In those days, he did the directing, set design, lighting and costuming — all by himself.
“I used to be here until 3 a.m. with students building sets,” he said.
They would order pizza and, on the way out, would get stopped by Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies who wondered why people were on campus so late, Holmes recalled.
“I don’t know why their parents put up with that,” he laughed.
Holmes doesn’t pull all-nighters anymore, but he is wholeheartedly dedicated to the success of his students.
“To get students to their greatest potential, it takes hours of rehearsal for every moment on stage,” he said.
Teaching high school theater is about building confidence, and he always has a kind or encouraging word for his students.
There’s a moment when they get past memorizing lines and blocking and become true storytellers — and that’s his favorite part of teaching.
“They don’t know what they’re capable of,” he said.
“If you can focus that teenage energy, it’s marvelous. That’s what I’ll miss the most, that moment when students take ownership of the play and it becomes theirs. It’s glorious.”
Holmes is proud of the many former students employed as stagehands, stage managers, scenic artists, sound technicians and other theater crew jobs in town.
“I can’t go to any theater in Santa Barbara and look at the program without seeing a former student on there,” he said.
He credits his colleagues with helping students succeed, including musical and vocal director Carolyn Teraoka-Brady and sets and lighting designer Theodore Michael Dolas.
When Holmes decided to retire, he wanted to go out on the top of his game, he said. He directed Les Misérables this spring, which was “truly incredible,” he said.
Holmes is handing the torch to student teacher Riley Berris, who is finishing her master’s at UCSB this spring. She has worked with Holmes all year, which was a great opportunity to learn the ropes, she said.
“I wished it would work out this way, to pass on the torch the same way it was passed to me,” Holmes said.
Once he retires, he’ll be doing some local acting himself and finishing a series of autobiographical short stories, but he’s still focused on organizing the Rocky Horror effort.
There was an overwhelming response from former students when Holmes suggested the alumni show, and 84 people are in the cast, with some parts divided between four people.
“What a testament to how important this program was that they would come back, stop their busy careers for a week and do something as dumb as Rocky Horror,” he marveled.
The point of the show is fun, and he won’t be putting anyone into a compromising position, he said.
All the cast members — some in their 40s — are dressing themselves to their own comfort level, given the show’s enthusiasm for fishnet tights and lingerie. There will also be an appearance by the famous hippo costume that shows up at every talent show, he said. It’s getting Rocky-appropriate attire so it can do the Time Warp along with everyone else.
The cast members will rehearse together for only a few days before the midnight show on June 12 and the 7:30 p.m. show on Friday the 13th. The San Marcos theater holds 1,000 and Holmes hopes people will show up in full costumes with props, ready for audience participation.
Holmes said he wants to leave the department better off than he found it, which is why he had the idea of making Rocky Horror a fundraiser.
Tickets are $25 for the general public and $20 for students. Click here to purchase tickets online, call 805.967.4581 or buy them from the box office on the night of the shows. The shows are expected to sell out both nights, organizers say.
Performing arts students will also be selling bags of props at the theater.
All proceeds will go to the San Marcos High School Performing Arts Department and donations can be given to the high school or the San Marcos High School Performing Arts Affiliates nonprofit organizations at 4750 Hollister Ave.
Tamara Jensen, who’s playing Magenta in Act 2, remembers playing the leads in many San Marcos musicals during her high school years. She was a freshman when Holmes was hired and remembers when he promised to do Rocky Horror one day.
“What’s spectacular is my daughter is a freshman at San Marcos this year and she got to be in his last fall production,” Jensen said. “I was in his first one and my daughter was in the last one.
“I was thrilled to death that she had the opportunity to work with him.”
Jensen, who owns a party-planning business in town, got together with Holmes and some of the alumni for a photo shoot last week.
Everyone has so much admiration, respect and love for Holmes, Jensen said.
“I have some of my best friends flying in from all over the place,” she said. “We’re making it not only a tribute for this wonderful person, but to reflect on our high school memories — so many were based on shows we did together.”
She remembers going to midnight showings of Rocky Horror in costume, knowing all the lines, but hasn’t watched or thought about the movie since high school, she said. She’s been wearing her Magenta wig around the house — which cracks up her kids — and many of her close friends are preparing for their parts, too.
“To think that I’m going to be back on the stage I was on 26 years later and also in lingerie is terrifying,” she laughed.
“There’s such teamwork and everyone is pulling together because they really want this to be the most ultimate and epic finale for him,” she said. “If anyone deserves it, it’s Mr. Holmes.”
Amy Stark and her three siblings attended San Marcos in the early 1990s and were all involved in the theater department, she said.
“That the school’s willing to do it says so much about how respected he is,” Stark said. She’s working on the planning committee, coordinating schedules and finding cast members.
Holmes made a valuable impact on all her siblings, inspiring them to get better roles and helping them come into their own. When her younger brother was suffering from appendicitis, Holmes was the one who knew something was wrong, she said.
“He did a scene and Mr. Holmes called my dad to say something’s not right, and my dad took him to the hospital,” she said. “My brother’s appendix had exploded.
“Mr. Holmes potentially saved his life.”
When Stark’s other brother died six years after graduating, Holmes added him to the school’s Hall of Fame, honoring him for his work as a talent agent.
“He’s just that kind of teacher who knows just enough,” Stark said. “He made a huge impact on our family in a very positive way. That’s why I want to give back and help with this.”