Barefoot in the Park

He’s Back !!!


By Dr. Marchéta Williams, Director Visual and Performing Arts

LONG TIME MADERA High School Drama Teacher is back as the Theatre Director at Madera High. Famous for quality productions such as Twelve Angry Jurors, in 2007, Rumors, in 2013, California Suite, in 2014, and most recently this past fall, Neil Simmons’ Barefoot in the Park, Duncan Needham has returned to teach and direct students to present high quality performances. 

Mr. Needham, was born in Orange, CA, to theatre parents, his father a successful designer and his mother an actress and the past recipient of the prestigious Best Actress of the Year Award presented by the Pasadena Playhouse. Duncan realized at an early age, “Theatre was in his blood,” and decided to pursue theatre arts.

Duncan started his theatre career in his Drama 1 class, as a high school freshman after having moved to Visalia in his early teens. In 1992, shortly after high school, he co-founded a children’s theater with volunteers and friends, The Enchanted Playhouse, still thriving today. As a theatre student at Fresno State, he performed and directed numerous stage productions at the university and worked many years in community theatre, including work on productions for the Ice House Theater, and summer workshops with the Tulare County Office of Education.

Following graduation from Fresno State in 1999, he was given the opportunity to become the first theatre arts director for the newly formed University High, located on the campus of Fresno State. He went on to become the theatre director at Madera High, where in 2005 a bond passed, that included renovations at Madera High and the creation of a Black Box Theater. “One of my philosophies is that student actors neeed to have more personalized experiences as they develop their skills and their craft.” (The Black Box Theater is a small, 1200 square foot stage with 100 seats). Duncan was given a budget and full access “A blank canvas,” to determine the needs and design for the theater, “A place for kids to feel at home.” The Black Box Theater, otherwise known as the Coyote Arena Theatre, premiered its first production in the spring of 2007.

He soon formed a remarkably successful theatrical team with former Drama teacher, James Gunn, in which Duncan trained the actors while James built incredible life-like sets for their many noteworthy productions. James came on board in 2008, after having met at a Coyote Arena Theatre production, when James introduced himself to Duncan as the father of one of his actors in the show. James said, “Hey, I’m Dorothy’s father and I kind of know sets.” This was to be the start of Madera High’s own “Rogers and Hammerstein.” Together their collaboration led to such stand out shows as “Midsummer Night’s Dream”in 2008, “Noises Off” in 2009, “Romeo and Juliet” in 2010, and “A Christmas Carol” in 2011.

Abigail Grace

This wonderful partnership all changed when his second daughter, born in 2008, Abigail Grace, was diagnosed with brain cancer, on July 7, 2011. Her condition was originally thought to be an ear infection, which delayed treatment for an entire month. This unfortunate news was met with an outpour of support from the entire Madera, Fresno, and Clovis communities, mobilized by 17,000 Facebook fans. This changed the culture at Madera High, making Abigail a poster child for hope, which led to her picture being displayed all over the world, for various non-profits. Sadly, Abigail passed away in December of 2013 at the tender age of five. A plaque was placed on the campus of Madera High, donated as a memorable gift, by the class of 2014. Following Abigail’s passing, Duncan decided to step away from his demanding responsibilities, as the theatre arts director, to dedicate more time to his family. During his time away, Kent Albertson, principal at the time, gave him the opportunity to teach English and Film Production, and James Gunn took over the theatre program. This led to other opportunities for him: teacher on special assignment, athletic director, and English teacher.

In the Spring of 2019, James decided to retire, and Duncan was asked to return as theatre arts director. Duncan’s high school daughter, Lily, is following in her father’s footsteps as a drama student. Duncan’s wife is also a teacher. When asked how it felt to be back at Madera High, as the theatre arts director, Mr. Needham responded, “Coming back to this office felt like coming home, like I had never left.” 

Final cast picture before Mr. Needham left in 2014

“Kids learning, acting is more than just developing character it is actually reanimating life. They get to share what they see around the world, not just historically but culturally. It’s more than just standing up on stage and playing pretend characters. It has a lot to do with their own development as a person, what they can do and what they need to work on as a person.”

– Duncan Needham


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