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A Fullerton Drama Teacher’s Pet Project Has Scene the Light of Day

TIMES STAFF WRITER

High school drama teacher Mary Krell-Oishi has never been pleased with the scenes students must use to practice their acting skills.

“The scenes that I was getting from other sources were either too adult, like Willy Loman in ‘Death of a Salesman,’ or scenes written specifically for high school actors in which most of the kids were on drugs, or getting out of rehab, or pregnant,” she said. “At least my kids are not totally into that.

“Most kids are like I was in high school: just trying to get through school without making a fool out of yourself.”

Unable to find dramatic scenes with characters and situations that were relevant to her students at Sunny Hills, Krell-Oishi did the next best thing: She wrote her own.

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Now they’ve been collected in a book.

“Scenes That Happen” (Meriwether Publishing; $9.95) offers “dramatized snapshots about the real life of high-schoolers.”

Tapping her own observations gleaned from working with young people for 15 years, Krell-Oishi has written 34 different scenes. They range from five to seven minutes in length and deal with both serious and lighthearted subjects--from the death of a parent and young love to parental restrictions and peer pressure.

Some of the scenes are based on Krell-Oishi’s own experiences attending Bassett High School in La Puente (Class of ’71).

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In one scene titled “Beaching It,” two senior girls debate whether they should go to class or ditch and go to the beach. The characters are Marlene, who is described as “ready at all times to have fun,” and Mary, who is “ready to have fun, just not at all times.”

Marlene is actually the name of Krell-Oishi’s best friend in high school who, as the author writes in the book’s preface, helped her get “in and out of trouble. But it was the normal kind of trouble. Homework, dating, parents.”

Recalled Krell-Oishi, 38: “She was always the instigator and I was always Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. Marlene’s theory of life was, ‘What are they going to do, spank you?’ ”

One of the scenes that has proved to be the most popular with other drama instructors is “Time to Go.” It’s about two sisters preparing to leave for their mother’s funeral.

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“I don’t know where that came from,” said Krell-Oishi with a laugh. “I used my sister’s name (for one of the characters), but my mom is still alive. She is not happy with that scene.”

Krell-Oishi began writing dramatic scenes for her students in 1989. Although she was initially apprehensive about having them read her work, she needn’t have worried. “They loved them,” she said.

To get a less biased view, she gave copies of the scenes to other drama teachers in her district. She really knew she had struck a chord when she attended a high school drama workshop at Cal State Fullerton two years ago. She and several other drama teachers were talking about scenes when a girl interrupted them with “Oh, I’ve got some great scenes.”

Recalls Krell-Oishi with satisfaction: “They were mine.”

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Buena Park High School drama teacher Joe Parrish urged her to get her scenes published, saying, “If you don’t send them into a publisher, I will.”

“I’ve been using her scenes for several years in my classroom,” said Parrish. “I’ve just found every time I use these scenes the kids are able to identify with them and the characters. It’s great, especially for beginning actors. Not only the kids themselves, but the audiences, always identify with them.”

Not bothering to find an agent, Krell-Oishi simply looked through the Writer’s Market guidebook and found Meriwether Publishing of Colorado Springs, Colo., listed under Contemporary Drama Services. She said she sent in the 20 scenes she had written, “almost as a joke. You never really think anyone would really publish them.”

Two weeks later, a contract arrived in the mail. “I was stunned,” said Krell-Oishi, who wrote 14 additional scenes for the book. Before she sent them in, she said, “I had my kids do them and fixed what didn’t work.”

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Having one book in print has given the Yorba Linda resident the confidence to continue writing. She’s already at work on a second collection of scenes for her publisher and has two young adult books in the works--one about contemporary high school girls and another based on her father’s life as a teen-ager in the 1940s.

“I guess when you get your first moment of acceptance you think: ‘Wow, I can do this!’ ” said Krell-Oishi, who is relishing her publishing debut.

That was a major topic of discussion at her recent 20-year high school reunion where she reminded her old friend Marlene about the time they cut school and went to the beach.

“Oh, you didn’t write about that!” gasped Marlene. “My mother didn’t know!”

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