By Maggie Kieser, Current Staff
The last curtain of the WBHS performance of Cinderella in February was more than just the final performance of a talented cast. This signified the final high school musical production for longtime director Karen Wysocky.
At the end of this school year, Wysocky will retire from her position as choir teacher for the West Bend High Schools after arriving in 1986. She has done wonders for the choir department and the annual musicals, and she has left an impression on students both current and past.
When Wysocky started her position at West Bend, the choir department was not at the caliber it is today. Thanks to her, the choir department has grown and has achieved high recognition.
“When I first came there were only two choirs and a swing choir—nothing co-curricular. I reshaped the program so that there was a non-auditioned choir and an auditioned concert choir, and developed the girls’ choir into a Sweet Adeline young women in harmony choir, which is the only choir of its kind in the state of Wisconsin,” Wysocky said.
With the growth of the choir came a growth of recognition. In the spring of 2013, the choir won every single award possible during their competition, according to Wysocky. In 2014, the Concert Choir had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall. Along with group performances, she has had individual success with her students given that many have gone in to participate in the Wisconsin State Honors Choir, and many of her students go on to pursue careers in music.
“I hope that my replacement will find as much joy as I did for the past 30 years,” Wysocky said.
“I hope that my replacement will find as much joy as I did for the past 30 years.”
– Karen Wysocky, music teacher
Wysocky’s hard work did not go unnoticed. In 2015, she won the Rolfs Foundation Teacher of the Year award. “Winning the Rolfs award was a very humbling experience. There are many great teachers here and I was honored to be selected for that award,” she said.
Along with her work with the choir department, Wysocky works tirelessly every year to direct the annual musical. This year, the musical Cinderella had a lot of positive feedback and sold out the majority of the weekend. The positive outcome of the show meant a lot to her.
“Having Cinderella be so successful was a great way to end my musical career here,” Wysocky said.
Not only was the production well received, but many girls in the audience really took to the princess theme. Wysocky loved this aspect, saying, “I was so happy to see little girls come dressed up as Cinderella—that was exactly what I wanted to happen!”
Cinderella was portrayed by East senior Andrea Narveson. She has been an avid participant in the musicals and choirs, and she was very excited to play the lead in Cinderella. “It was such an honor to be the lead in her last musical. She has so much knowledge about music and about theater so getting to work with her closely and being able to gain some of her knowledge was incredible,” Narveson said.
Because Wysocky is the only choir teacher, she has many of the same students from year to year. While some teachers don’t get the chance to deeply know their students, Wysocky always looked out for her students. Narveson discussed how these connections meant a lot to her and the other students. “Other good memories I have of her are honestly just day to day things. She tells us about her life and we tell her about our lives and it’s really special how great of a connection she has with every one of her students,” Narveson said.
Along with making connections, Wysocky has proven herself to be a devoted teacher. “I think her greatest attribute is how incredibly dedicated she is,” Narveson said.
Wysocky works many hours outside of school to provide the best learning experience for her students. Narveson appreciates all the effort Wysocky put into their classes. “She has given up basically her entire life to teaching. She spends countless hours at school doing all sorts of things related to her choirs. On top of that, she runs several extracurricular activities,” Narveson said.
Narveson will graduate in 2016 and has auditioned for music theater programs hoping to pursue a career in that field.
Wysocky also continues to impact her past students. Seth Kieser, for example, continued to help Wysocky with the musicals after he graduated from East in 2012. While a student, he participated in five musicals with Wysocky, starting with playing John in Peter Pan at age 10 and ending with Jesus in Godspell when he was a senior.
Kieser recalled how Wysocky pushed him to be a better actor, especially with his role in Godspell. “To this date, [Jesus] is one of the most difficult roles that I’ve ever played,” he said.
Wysocky worked with him to portray a character that has a different meaning to different people.
“She really worked with me on how to make the role something that I could connect to but also one that the audiences could connect to without feeling as though they had to subscribe to who I thought Jesus was,” Kieser said.
Wysocky taught Kieser important lessons that he still carries with him today as he continues to work in the theater. “She never wanted me or any of us onstage to play characters that were static and non-relatable,” Kieser said. And even though there was a pressure to put on a memorable performance, Wysocky made rehearsals fun for everyone, he added.
Growing up with a love for acting, Kieser always dreamed about having a career in theater, and Wysocky was always there to encourage him to go after his dream. “She never discouraged me from doing otherwise, and for that, I will be eternally grateful,” Kieser said.
Kieser will graduate from Viterbo University in the spring of 2016 with a Bachelor in Fine Arts with an emphasis on Stage Management. He hopes to move to New York and work there.
Although Wysocky’s retirement will be a tremendous loss to West Bend’s music department, she will always be remembered by her students. Her students have also left a big impact on her life. “Many, MANY students, administrators and colleagues have shaped me into the teacher I am today. I have definitely made mistakes along the way, but from each mistake, I learned a lot which helped me grow as an individual and teacher,” Wysocky said.
As for advice to her students, Wysocky has wise words about working hard. “For my students, I hope that they have realized excellence is possible in everything that they do, and you can’t take the easy road to get there. It takes dedication, hard work, and discipline to be the very best,” she said.
Wysocky feels that the words from the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked truly sum up how she feels about the students and staff that have touched her life:
“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn. And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return. I know I’m who I am today because I knew you, and because I knew you I have been changed for good.”
(Top image: Karen Wysocky leads her concert choir class. Photograph courtesy of Noe Hadley, East junior.)