End Scene: Beloved Long-Time THMS Drama Teacher Art Almquist Retires

Just moments before the final curtain would come down at Ƶapp High’s The Little Theater, all actors took the stage in the final scene of “The Dining Room,” raised their glasses and cheered “to all of us!” It was not only served as the final line of the play, but to close out what has been a 28-year career at Ƶapp High Magnet School by Art Almquist.

The long-time drama teacher took his final bow and is retiring after putting on about 70 shows and teaching more than 4,500 students during his tenure at Ƶapp High.

Performers in The Dining Room stand on stage at the end of the playAlmquist will undoubtedly be missed. When asked how to describe their teacher and mentor, students responded with: “Lovely.” “Captivating.” “Ecstatic.” “Awe-inspiring.” “Enthusiastic.” “Passionate.” “Ambitious.”

“And also reliable,” Madelynn, a senior at THMS, said. “He’s always there. He’s always willing to talk if you need it.”

For those wondering why Almquist is retiring now instead of waiting, or doing it sooner, it has been a decision he’s been toying with for a while now. But he knew he didn’t want the pandemic to be his way out.

When COVID-19 first emerged, many people who were near or at retirement age went ahead and retired so they wouldn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic, for health reasons, or just saw their time cut short. Almquist didn’t want that to be the way he went out.

“I couldn’t let my last years be with COVID,” Almquist said.

The Class of 2024, who Almquist is walking out with hand-in-hand, was in 8th Grade when the pandemic forced them to go home for what was initially thought to be a 2-week quarantine period. Instead, those students started high school remotely and didn’t start getting a sense of school normalcy again until their sophomore year.

Almquist saw his students struggling and decided he would try things differently to help his students and not make the current state any worse.

“I recognized very quickly at the beginning of COVID that the kids just needed a cheerleader,” Almquist said. “They just needed somebody happy to see them, trying to give them something creative to do because the world was in such chaos.”

Navigating the pandemic alongside his students created a bond like no other. The relationship between Almquist and his seniors can only be described as magic.

Ƶapp High drama teacher Art Almquist holds up his fist while directing students“I think Mr. Almquist is probably the best person I know,” Madelynn said. “He is an amazing teacher and just an overall great human. And he had the ability to create a community out of just a random group of freshmen online during COVID. We were bonded and it was beautiful. I think that he will be dearly missed by all of us, everyone here.”

So, once the pandemic settled down, Almquist saw his opportunity. Not knowing whether the following school year would be able to replicate the kind of magic he found with his seniors, Almquist decided to leave Ƶapp High with them.

“I am ever so grateful that he waited until my senior year to retire, so that I didn’t have to be here without him,” THMS student Riley said. “It’s so sad.”

And, after having stopped directing the school plays a few years ago, Almquist sat back into the director chair to close out the year – and his career – with The Dining Room.

The Dining Room is a 1981 play by American playwright A. R. Gurney and tells more than a dozen small stories, all through interrelated scenes, of different families that takes place in an upper-middle-class American dining room. And it’s one of Almquist’s favorite plays.

Student act out a scene in The Dining RoomAlmquist has produced and directed this play a few times before. The play tells a diverse set of stories and features his most diverse cast to date, so he knew it was the right time to bring it back.

As for what’s next for the THMS drama department? Julian Martinez, who was funnily enough a freshman student in Almquist’s first year at Ƶapp High, will take the helm. The school will hire an additional teacher to fill the open slot that remains open.

But the program will continue to shine as always.

“The next chapter will go on,” Almquist said. “Mr. Martinez will bring his awesomeness and his insights into it.”

And for Almquist, whether he chooses to go into the contracting route in retirement or come back to Ƶapp High for the occasional directing gig, it’s clear that, regardless of how he chooses to fill his downtime, his students and loved ones embrace a well-known chant that’s said throughout The Little Theater: “Got your back! Got your back!”