Hardin HS theater students lauded for putting together show while teacher battled COVID-19

The cast of Hardin High School's performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" gathered for a quick photo with their teacher, Kaci Rhine, and advisor, Deborah Pickett, after their show on Wednesday. Pictured left to right are (front row) Kaci Rhine, Mary Bergin (kneeling), Elese Spurlock, Harrison Jensen-Kelly, Natalie Parrish, Brooks McKelroy, Jaden West, Tristan Strickhausen, Summer Ewing, Nolen Thompson, Bailey McQueary and Deborah Pickett; (back row) Alexia McCulloch, Candalario Bolanos, Rory Perez, Landen Smith, Kaleb Matherne, Emily Anthony and Harley Spivey. (Photo courtesy of Hollie Strickhausen)

There is a saying in show biz that the show must go on, and a class of Hardin High School theater production students took that literally when their beloved teacher fell ill with COVID-19 in the weeks leading up to their performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

On Wednesday night before a small crowd of family members, the 17 students performed the show to perfection as their teacher, Kaci Meche Rhine, beamed with pride as she watched from the front row.

“They didn’t have any line mistakes or any entrance and exit mistakes. There were no mistakes at all. I am very nitpicky usually, but these students completely exceeded my expectations and I am very proud of them,” Rhine told Bluebonnet News on Thursday.

Several of the students fell back on their training from previous years in theater production. Some also have performed with the community theater group The Valley Players in Liberty, so they understood the basics of putting together a show.

“A lot of them have done shows with me at The Valley Players, most recently when I was Ariel in ‘The Little Mermaid,'” Rhine said. “It has been a good training ground for them.”

Alexia McCulloch, a senior at Hardin High School, was the stage manager for the show. Rhine said McCulloch completely took over tasks that she, as teacher, would normally handle.

“Alexia made sure they kept working every day. She went above and beyond. The students would Facetime me sometimes during class so I could see how things were going,” Rhine said.

High School Principal Stacy Tucker, Asst. Principal Dr. Rachel Polk and Deborah Pickett also stopped in to check on their progress and to help whenever possible.

Rhine said in her 12 years of teaching, she has never seen a group of students work so well together despite the absence of their teacher.

“A lot of times when a teacher is away, students will nap or try to escape the class. These kids showed up and literally worked on their play every day. They ran their lines and worked their scenes,” she said. “Most of these kids are exempt from their finals, but they are coming back to school on Friday to audition for One Act Play. They are very committed, more so than most kids.”

Their devotion to Rhine extends beyond the classroom. During Hurricane Imelda, Chris and Kaci Rhine’s home in Liberty was flooded, prompting them to build a new home off of FM 1011 (Governor’s Road) near Kaci’s mom, Jerre’ Miller, who is also a noted actress for the Valley Players. As Kaci has been recuperating from COVID-19 and then a bout with pneumonia, all while pregnant with her second child, she has been unable to help her husband with some of the tasks at their new home.

“We had have 13 kids volunteering to help move furniture and paint rooms. They just wanted to come help. They are an amazing group of kids,” she said. “I’ve worked at different school districts over the last 12 years, some in inner cities, and I’ve had some great students, but the level of devotion and kindness here at Hardin is beyond anywhere I have ever seen. These kids are more like a family to each other than just friends.”

The cast for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” included, in alphabetical order, Emily Anthony, Mary Bergin, Candalario Bolanos, Summer Ewing, Harrison Jensen-Kelly, Kaleb Matherne, Alexia McCulloch, Brooks McKelroy, Bailey McQueary, Natalie Parrish, Rory Perez, Landen Smith, Harley Spivey, Elese Spurlock, Tristan Strickhausen, Nolen Thompson and Jaden West.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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