ALAMEDA -- Thirty years and a bazillion shows later, Fred Chacon, Alameda High School's well-respected drama teacher, retires in June.
"Generations of Alamedans have worked with Fred and/or enjoyed his productions, especially his big musical each year," said AHS librarian and journalism teacher Kelly Gregor. "He has had a profound impact on thousands of students at our school over the years."
In recognition of his service to the school and to the community, Mayor Marie Gilmore has declared Friday Fred Chacon Day.
"When you love theater and that's where your passion is, it's not really work," Chacon said. "I've been very lucky to work in educational theater. Every year, you do different plays, but even when you are doing a show you've done before, you do a different style and have a different cast so it becomes something new."
Chacon's March production of "All Shook Up" provides a fitting tribute of its own. The show received nine nominations, including best director and best overall production, in the 2013 Bay Area High School Musical Theatre Honor Awards. When the awards were handed out in San Jose on June 1, Chacon walked away with the best director award.
"I could never have achieved this award without my great staff including Christina Lazo, Jesse Randall, Cary Litchford, Tania Johnson, Janice Stephenson and Darrell Burson and, of course, the students at Alameda High School," Chacon said.
"Fred is brilliant," said AHS Spanish teacher Teri Olson, who began at the high school in 1984, the same year as Chacon. "It's masterful the way he works with kids. He knows just what to say to help them with their characters. He really transforms them."
Olson also applauds Chacon, a 29-year resident of Alameda, for starting the Alameda Civic Light Opera. "Alameda wasn't a theater town before Fred came here and now it is," Olson said.
According to Chacon, the closure of the Alameda Naval Air Station was the catalyst for starting ACLO.
"The mayor wanted something to rejuvenate the downtown area so we started the light opera company," Chacon said. "It was quite an undertaking, but it was also a great summer experience for the high school students. We'd hire them to crew the shows."
Chacon left ACLO after eight years and signed on as the artistic director of the Altarena Playhouse, a position he still holds.
"I've always been very clear that my first priority is Alameda High," Chacon said. "I usually only direct one show at year at the Altarena because the high school needs all my attention from September through June."
Looking back over the past 30 years, Chacon said it's impossible to choose a favorite show, although, he notes that his 2010 production of "Peter Pan" ranks as one of the best because all the sets, costumes and apparatus for flying turned out "just right."
According to Chacon, "The Laramie Project" also has a special place in his heart.
"It was one of the hardest shows I've ever done," he said. "The kids really had to be serious and focus on this intense drama about the murder of a gay student. Rehearsals were pretty difficult, but they really came through when we got to performance."
Adding to the difficulty for Chacon was a group of people who threatened to picket the show. The night they were supposed to come, a group of 200 gay activists held a candlelight vigil in front of the school.
"The protesters never showed up, and we had a sold out house," Chacon said.
Chacon and his current students paid homage to shows during the past 30 years in AHS' final production of the year -- "Curtain Call Cabaret." The retrospective sold out all three performances.
"It was exciting to see those shows come alive again," Chacon said.
While Chacon will miss the job that has occupied his life for the past 30 years, he said: "It feels like this is the right time to go. I'm getting older, and it's time to go have some fun and do some other things."
Following graduation, Chacon will travel back to Utah Shakespeare Festival where his son Nick is the stage manager before visiting other family members in Michigan.
"Then, we're going to Hawaii in September," he said. "I've always wanted to go in the offseason when rates are down and the kids are back in school."