PERRYSBURG – Perrysburg High School theater director Rob Gentry has staged 100 shows, from “You Can’t Take It with You” to “Lend Me a Tenor.”
Gentry took a bow on his 100th show in the fall and will retire at the end of this year after 34 years.
“I have been involved in theater my whole life,” Gentry said. “It started when I was in kindergarten.”
As a little boy, he played a ring master in a play about a circus.
“And I got my theater bug.”
Gentry said he never considered his job as another kind of ring master, this time with students.
“Yes, this is like a ring master, pulling all the aspects together and being in charge.”
Since the fall show, Gentry has presented the Winter One Acts (shows 101 and 102).
He said he picks his shows after looking at the potential cast: he has to take that into consideration so he has an idea who can play which part.
“I knew going into it I have the right group that I could cast that show from,” he said about “Lend Me a Tenor. “And it’s one of my favorite shows,” Gentry said.
He remembers “Les Misérables” in 2003 as his best show, although he said picking the best is like picking a favorite child.
“That was probably our strongest … it was just an awesome show. That one was probably the pinnacle, number one, but we’ve had many other shows that ranked right up there.”
“Mama Mia!” two years ago ranks at the top as well.
While the school has done “Oklahoma!”, Gentry admitted to not being a huge Rodgers and Hammerstein fan.
He and former choir director Pamela Williams would trade years in picking a show. “Oklahoma!” was one of her choices, he said.
Gentry would switch up the selections, from comedy one year to something more serious the next. He also looked at the different styles, from a classic like “Oklahoma!” to something newer like “High School Musical.”
“There’s all kinds of things to look at. Plus as a director, you want something you want to do that’s going to give you the passion to work on something for several months.”
He always wanted to do “Wicked” but it never became available, and while he loves “Spamalot,” PHS didn’t do it because the cast was so guy heavy.
“I’ve had such great kids to work with,” Gentry said, adding that he now has the kids of former students in class.
His last show this spring is “Once,” also is one of his favorites. The original plan was to do “Grease,” but it is very expensive and would have had 70 kids – and if one student contracted the coronavirus, that could halt the entire production.
“Once” is less expansive with a cast of around 15, he said.
“I am thrilled that we’re able to do this as my last show.”
While he has repeated shows, Gentry would wait five years to allow student rotation, that way “when you repeat a show that’s a really good show, it’s brand new to the kids.
“So as a director, it’s nice to repeat every once in a while because it is so much easier to redo a show.”
“He loved staging comedies, especially farces,” recalled JoBeth Gonzalez, Gentry’s counterpart at Bowling Green High School. “Another strength of his program was the tech experience he provided students. His shows often featured large sets that students helped to construct.”
She said she will miss his insight in TEN (Theatre Educators’ Network), which is comprised of over a dozen high school theatre teachers from Wood and Lucas counties.
“Rob’s contributions have been consistently insightful and heartfelt,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to miss Rob’s energy, his sense of humor, and his commitment to helping teens grow to their potential through his active theater program.”
Gentry was involved in shows throughout his time in Maumee schools and he decided he would make a career out of professional acting.
He earned a theater scholarship to Kent State University – and that lasted about one week.
“I just decided it wasn’t for me,” he said. “Most of the other kids in the program were really weird and I’m just not that type. I don’t believe you have to be weird if you’re in the arts.”
Gentry switched majors to comprehensive communications with the goal of becoming a high school drama teacher. After graduating from Kent State in 1985, he interviewed all over before landing a teaching job in Lancaster.
“It just wasn’t where my passion was,” he said.
A year later, he was back in with his parents in Perrysburg, the local job became available, and he got it.
As a side note, his parents moved to Perrysburg when he was a junior in high school, “but there was no way I was going to go to stinking Perrysburg High School.”
The two districts were arch rivals, he said.
When Gentry started working at Perrysburg, he was worried about the kids being stuck-up – because that was Maumee High School’s perception of PHS. He even wore a suit jacket and tie to class every day for the first couple, hoping they wouldn’t think less of him.
“I love it now,” Gentry said.
When he joined the district, the theater program was lacking, he said.
“The kids were hungry for someone to come and do theater. That’s why I’ve been able to build the program to what I want it to be.”
After retiring in May, he plans to spend his days around the in-ground pool being put in his backyard this summer. Wife Michelle is expected to continue to teach in Sylvania for another six years, Gentry said.
Their son Jack will graduate from PHS this year.
Potential second careers include community theater and voice-over work. He also plans to audition to do audio books.
After 34 years directing at Perrysburg, “it’s time for someone else to step into the role.”