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JOHN KILPATRICK

They call him “Mister K.”

He has a neatly trimmed, distinguished beard. His voice is deep. His diction crisp. He is an actor.

His pace is quick. His demeanor decisive. He is a director.

There are times he has extraordinary patience. At other times he is rigid and demanding. He sets himself as an example. He is a teacher.

John Kilpatrick, affectionately addressed as “Mister K” by both students and parents, has been director of Agoura High School’s Performing Arts Department since 1976.

He is busy now making sure teenage boys look right as sailors, girls look right as navy nurses, and palm trees and a tiny painted island remind one of Polynesia and Bali Hai. From May 6th through May 14th, Mister K and Agoura High School will put on “South Pacific.”

After more than twenty years teaching theatre, Kilpatrick is an old hand at directing. He has put on dozens of shows like Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, and Bye Bye Birdie. Although most of his students use the talents they polish in high school theatre to become more well-rounded adults, a few have gone on to their own careers in show business.

“I try to talk kids out of careers in show business,” he says. “If they still want it after being told the harsh realities of the business, then they may make it.” He emphasizes the importance of college, of finding another career to fall back on. “Because,” he says, “it’s competitive out there. You never know when your luck will be in, or out. You not only have to have to have talent, you have to have a strong ego and a thick skin to make it as an actor.”

Theatre wasn’t a part of John Kilpatrick’s life when he was in high school. In fact, he graduated from Cal Lutheran University and went off to seminary school. His career only took shape when he began doing church drama and polishing his craft working with our local Conejo Players.

The Fates have always been important in theatre – as in life. Kilpatrick was directing “Lion in Winter” for the Conejo Players when he cast an actor named Jay Daniels (who subsequently became a well-known television producer). Daniels’ wife, Ilene, was then a theatre teacher at Agoura High. She asked Kilpatrick if he wanted to teach, to put on a play there. He did. The next year, when Ilene Daniels moved on, John Kilpatrick became Agoura’s drama director. And four years later, he married Tamara, the dance teacher at Agoura.

Mister K teaches classes in acting, directing, playwriting, theatre history, and stagecraft. He also teaches English. Over the years, he has been able to exercise all his talents. He produces. He directs. And, at times when there’s no understudy available, and one of his kids becomes ill, the show has to go on, and he goes on. He sings with a group called “Country Matters” that has performed 16th Century songs in the setting of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire for the last dozen years. At Christmas his group dresses in Dickensonian 19th century attire and performs carols. He’s a SAG actor during summers and has performed in movies with Bruce Willis and Bill Murray.

As a theatre teacher, Kilpatrick has to deal with parents, some with that “little league” urge to push their children to achieve. But Mister K does not cast based on seniority. Sometimes it’s a freshman that gets the starring role and not the graduating senior. Sometimes the most talented actor is just not right for a role. Those choices are hard and can often make for both unhappy parents and students. But disappointments can also serve as good lessons for the harsh realities of the theatre.

“There’s no business like show business,” Mister K says, quoting the song. “You can be out in the street, out in the cold. But still you wouldn’t trade it for a sack of gold.” And the show – “South Pacific” – goes on at Agoura High, May 6th – 14th. And my son, Mischa, is in it.