Former students stage benefit play for teacher diagnosed with disease

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

What: "No Choice: How To Become A Successful Young Achiever," an original comedic play, and a benefit for The ALS Association, Oregon and SW Washington Chapter in honor of Micah Hilario. The play contains some adult themes and language; parental guidance is recommended.

When: 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 18-20.

Where: Prairie High School, 11500 N.E. 117th Ave.

Cost: $5 at the door.

What: Walk to Defeat ALS.

When: Sept. 24. 11 a.m., registration; noon, walk begins.

Where: Esther Short Park, between Sixth, Eighth Columbia and Esther streets in downtown Vancouver.

Information: http://www.walktodefeatals.org;

walk@alsa-or.org; 800-681-9851.

What: “No Choice: How To Become A Successful Young Achiever,” an original comedic play, and a benefit for The ALS Association, Oregon and SW Washington Chapter in honor of Micah Hilario. The play contains some adult themes and language; parental guidance is recommended.

When: 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 18-20.

Where: Prairie High School, 11500 N.E. 117th Ave.

Cost: $5 at the door.

What: Walk to Defeat ALS.

When: Sept. 24. 11 a.m., registration; noon, walk begins.

Where: Esther Short Park, between Sixth, Eighth Columbia and Esther streets in downtown Vancouver.

Information: http://www.walktodefeatals.org;

walk@alsa-or.org; 800-681-9851.

For years, Micah Hilario’s students have loved teasing him about his funny last name. Hilarious, huh?

“Every year, every group of students think they’re the first to think that up,” he said.

There’s nothing humorous about the news Hilario got last fall: a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. That’s what’s commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a degenerative neurological disease that’s almost always fatal within two or three years.

Hilario, 34 is working this year, anyway, as an assistant principal at the alternative Battle Ground HomeLink and CAM school in Battle Ground. And on Tuesday night, he stopped by rehearsals for a play that’s being performed in his honor — by his former middle school math students from a decade ago.

“There was respect in that classroom,” said Paul Richter, 23, who studied eighth grade math with Hilario at Covington Middle School and has kept in loose touch ever since. Many teachers condescend or act as if students are second-class citizens, Richter said; Hilario was completely different. “We were talked to like people,” he said.

“Looking back, there are so few teachers who are real mentors, real guides,” said Rashid Al-Robaee, also 23. “I definitely want to be a teacher or work with kids, and I look back to him as my inspiration.”

Al-Robaee joked: “He used to hit us, but softer than the rest.”

Hilario’s eighth-grade classroom was special not just because of the friendly teaching style; it happens to be where three of the four performers first met.

“We met in his class and fell in love,” said Richter.

Branden Smith, 23, is the third member of the group; the fourth, Michael MacMillan, 22, doesn’t have a Hilario history; he joined up later — but reports hearing widespread fondness for Micah Hilario. “People keep telling me, I’ll definitely be there, he’s one of my favorite teachers,” MacMillan said.

“I had a fun year that year,” said Hilario. “It was only my second year of teaching. That whole class was great and those three in particular. They had a great sense of humor, and I always appreciated it. They were irreverent but always on the right side of the line.”

Which about sums up the original play the group will perform Thursday through Saturday: irreverent but right.

Terrifying

“No Choice” is about growing up and facing tough realities like peer pressure, drugs, sex — and perhaps the most terrifying reality of all: school assemblies.

“It’s a satire of those middle school assemblies that were supposed to help you in life and didn’t help you at all,” said Al-Robaee.

The format is a presentation by four motivational speakers visiting the fictional James A. Garfield Middle School. They’re there to counsel kids (you, the audience) about the dilemmas they’ll face in the world of high school.

The Good Friends Inspirational Speakers are sweet, hyper, slightly clueless and a little too revealing of their own failures and fights. Friendship is what life is all about, they insist as their motivational extravaganza degenerates into comedic screaming matches and even some fisticuffs. But rest assured, the friends are better friends than ever in the end — and maybe we know a little more about them than we want to. It’s a clever, snappy script, and at Tuesday rehearsal the actors displayed both nuance and antic energy.

If you’ve been following Richter and his friends across their performing career, you’ll recognize characters who’ve been in their repertoire for a long time. The group is called 100% Party Time, and it’s been putting on a summer benefit show every year since 2007. They also produced “Happy Films,” which aired for three seasons on FVTV the local public access TV station, and performed at Curious Comedy, a stand-up venue in Portland.

“No Choice” admissions will benefit the annual ALS Walk set for Sept. 24 in Esther Short Park, which raises money for the ALS Association chapter in Portland. It provides counseling and support groups for people with ALS and their families and caregivers, medical equipment loans, clinical trials, connections with the medical community and more. Hilario said he’s been checking in with the chapter every few months.

Good souls

Richter, a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University, joked that real motivation for creating “No Choice” was the fact that he didn’t get cast in the campus play last year.

“OK, I’m going to do a show of my own so I can’t be rejected,” he said. Then he got serious: “When we heard the news (about Hilario), we thought, we don’t have a lot of ways to give back — we’re good at a finite number of things.”

“It’s not like we have talent,” quipped Al-Robaee. “But we are good souls.”

Hilario (the derivation is Filipino, by the way) said he loves the message about friendship. He said his diagnosis was “like cold water splashed in your face. It’s a chance to examine your priorities and focus on the things that are truly important.”

Things like these four young people, their friendship and their play.

“The connection and passion these guys have. The way they care about each other,” Hilario said. “I can’t say enough how honored I am.”

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.

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