The Aquinas High School gymnasium isn’t just filled with memories of pep rallies and basketball games for A.J. Lloyd.
From the late 1980s when Lloyd was a student there, the memories wrap around the friends made at rehearsals and productions of plays such as Teahouse of the August Moon and Grease, and in more recent years, the memories are full of those he’s created with his students.
The Aquinas gymnasium is currently undergoing its annual transformation from basketball arena to theater for the staging of Little Shop of Horrors from Thursday through Saturday.
“I wanted to teach here so I came back,” said Lloyd, a 1986 Aquinas High School graduate who spent several years working as a chef before returning to his alma mater 15 years ago to fulfill his call in the school’s literature and drama departments. “I wanted to keep the drama department going.”
Inspired by the late Rev. John Fitzpatrick and the late Patricia Marcus, he wanted to do for other students what had been done for him.
“(Drama) brought me out of my shell,” he said. “I was shy. The most important thing is bringing out hidden talents they didn’t know they had.”
And Lloyd is doing just that.
Alex Givens, a junior who is playing the role of Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, had never been involved in drama before he was drafted into last year’s production of Annie. Lloyd needed an actor to fill a role, and Givens stepped in.
“Ever since, I fell in love,” said Givens.
Being at a school without an auditorium has its challenges, but Lloyd sees them as opportunities to teach his students.
“They get involved in building sets, set design,” he said.
He gets some help from the community such as from Tracer Audio, which helps provide the lighting and sound. When Lloyd was a student, there was no sound system or stage lights in the gym, simply some heavy black curtains used to help with the sound and makeshift lighting.
Some students have carried their love for drama after high school and majored in it in college, he said.
During the March 16 rehearsal, one alumna was back to help paint sets.
Mary Besel, who graduated last spring and is a student at Augusta University, said she wants a career related to the stage.
“I want to learn how to write, direct and teach,” she said.
Little Shop of Horrors will be performed at the Aquinas High School gym at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for adults and $20 for reserved seats. For more information, call (706) 736-5516.