Rocklin alumni surprise drama teacher with trip to New York

20-year instructor thanked for helping kids shine on stage
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald and Press Tribune editor
-A +A

A group of Rocklin High School alumni returned to the high school Thursday evening to celebrate a beloved teacher’s two decades of work on and off stage.

Theater arts instructor Cinny Toepke has been at Rocklin High since the day it opened, and this week her students opened their production of “Alice in Wonderland,” resurrecting the first play the school’s drama department ever performed.

“I love what I do,” Toepke beamed, after the actors had taken their bows.

She was brought on stage by a group of alumni who had surprised her by attending the show, but the surprise was far from over.

As her former students surrounded her onstage, Mandy Boyd, Class of 1997, explained that the group, and many more former students via Facebook, had compiled a memory book for Toepke, containing messages and updates on what they’re doing now and what doing theater at RHS had meant for them.

One of those students was Nick Armstrong, Boyd said, adding, “The reason he’s not here today is because of you, actually. He is an actor and he is filming a movie.”

“We started talking about how much the theater program was such a huge influence in our lives … and was so inspiring to everyone up on the stage and so many years after us, so we decided to do something for you,” Boyd said, presenting Toepke with not only the memory book, but also an all-expenses paid trip to New York City funded by Toepke’s former students.

Boyd, now a teacher in Roseville, said theater has touched all of the alumni’s lives, even those who didn’t go into acting full-time. Boyd herself continues the art, now directing plays for fourth- through sixth-graders.

Beth Skidmore, who graduated with Boyd, has continued in the arts as well, working as a development director for a performing arts amphitheater in Santa Barbara. While she couldn’t be present for the presentation, she shared her thoughts about her high school drama experience in a phone interview.

“When I think about high school, I think about Mrs. Toepke’s theater class,” she said. “That’s really where I met some of my most treasured friends.”

Toepke helped the students develop their talents and passions for the performing arts, Skidmore said, including permitting Skidmore and Boyd to act on their idea to write and direct their own play.

“She really believed in that we were all capable of so much, and teaching us how to be creative and take risks, and doing it in a safe environment,” Skidmore said. “It was just a really cool way to learn, and I know it had a big impact in my continued interest in the arts and that being part of what I wanted to do in my life after high school.”

Toepke said just seeing the alumni was a gift in itself, and she was overwhelmed by their gift to her.

“These guys taught me as much as I taught them, or more,” she said. “They were my guinea pigs. Everything I did was a first with them.”

“I’m just blown away,” she said. “For the first time ever, I’m speechless.”