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2 SHOWS 8 DAYS APART: A DIRECTOR'S `VACATION'?

School may have ended June 1, but for Orem High School drama teacher Jerry Elison, it was just the beginning of a heavy summer theater schedule.

Elison is directing two major productions: "Oklahoma!" which opens Friday at the SCERA Shell outdoor amphitheater in Orem, and "Fiddler on the Roof," which opens only eight days later - June 23 - at Sundance.To say he's been busy is an understatement. His mornings are spent building and painting scenery at the Shell. Then he drives up Provo Canyon for several hours of rehearsal with the "Fiddler" cast during daylight. Then it's back to the Shell for evening rehearsals of "Oklahoma!"

Some way to spend a vacation! But for Jerry Elison, who "can't think of a time when I didn't love theater," it's pure pleasure.

Elison, a quiet man whose name is known and respected throughout Utah Valley theater circles, remembers putting on little plays on the front porch of his Oakley, Idaho, home when he was a kid. The interest continued through high school. To please his parents, though, he enrolled as a business administration major at Utah State University. "But I couldn't stay away from drama!" It wasn't until after he'd transferred to BYU and was deeply into the drama program that he told his folks he was going to pursue his love of theater.

He just finished his 36th year of teaching - 18 at the elementary level, 10 years at Orem Junior High, and the past eight at Orem High School. Every place he's taught, he's staged original musicals that involved every student who wanted to participate.

In addition to producing a full slate of productions during the school year, Elison has directed "Music Man," "Brigadoon," "South Pacific" and "Once Upon a Mattress" at the Shell. And he's spent 15 summers at Sundance, mostly directing the technical aspects of the popular summer shows, but he's also performed in "Damn Yankees," "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," and "Singin' in the Rain." This summer's "Fiddler" marks his debut as artistic director at Sundance.

Elison has a reputation for large casts, and "Oklahoma!" is no exception. The show features a cast of 60, plus 20 musicians and a real horse _ to pull the "surrey with the fringe on top."

Limiting a cast to only the brightest and best would defeat what Elison believes is the whole purpose of community theater: to give young people an opportunity to be onstage.

"There is nothing better for developing self-image and self-esteem," he says, "than a successful experience with a production _ whether it's being in it, or building and painting the sets for it."

Elison has seen more than one timid scenery-builder take a small stage part, then go on to play the lead in a future production. "I've seen so many people come out of their shells because of a theater experience," he says. "As far as I'm concerned, the more you can involve, the better."