They call him “Mister K.”
He has a neatly trimmed, distinguished beard.
His voice is deep. His diction crisp. He is an
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.