DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Minutes before showtime at Hillside High School, cast members are reading over their lines and getting ready to go on stage.
The school’s drama director, Wendell Tabb, takes the stage and welcomes another crowd to another performance.
But this weekend’s performances of “Why Mosquitoes Buzz” and “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” will be bittersweet for the students and the Tabb, as this is the drama director’s final production at Hillside High School.
After 35 years as the school’s drama director, Tabb has decided to retire.
“I think the time is right after 35 years and after doing so many productions and watching the students have so much success,” Tabb said.
Tabb’s current students are sad to see him go.
“In my opinion, he’s the heart of Hillside High School,” said Aniyah Lowe, a drama student at Hillside High School.
Several students told CBS 17 he’s had a huge impact on their lives.
“There’s a lot of emotions going through my mind,” said Omari Scott, a drama student at Hillside High School. “Mr. Tabb has been another father to me, he has challenged me and pushed me to be my best potential.”
Tabb began serving as drama director at Hillside High School in 1987 and his very first production that year was called, “I Just Wanna Tell Somebody.”
Tabb said his original plan was to only teach at Hillside High School for one year.
“That one year turned into two years, to five years, to 10 years, and now look where we are now, 35 years,” Tabb said.
He said over the years he’s put on more than 100 plays and taught anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 students.
One of those students, Ben Johnson, came out to Hillside High School on Friday to see Tabb’s final production.
Johnson was a student in the program from 1994 to 1998.
“It became interesting to me, his teaching and his style,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Tabb had a huge influence on him growing up.
“I didn’t have my father in my life growing up, so when I met Mr. Tabb through the theater program, he was very instrumental in making sure I stayed on top of my academics,” Johnson said. “Not only that, but my personal life, just making sure I stayed on the right path.”
Johnson decided to go into the education field as well, as he is now director of programs and services at Community School of Digital and Virtual Arts.
“I know for a fact, if it wasn’t for Mr. Tabb, I wouldn’t be involved in the arts at all,” Johnson said.
While both current and former students have said that Tabb has changed their lives, Tabb said it’s the students who have changed his.
“My life has forever been changed because of them,” Tabb said. “Hopefully, I’ve changed their lives, but really they have had a major impact on my life.”
Tabb said that he’ll continue to pursue film projects and he is looking forward to getting back into acting.
If you would like to go see one of the shows this weekend at Hillside High School, they will run Friday, March 18 at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday, March 19 at 3:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday, March 20 at 3:15 p.m.
Purchase tickets at www.seatyourself.biz/hillside. For more information, call the school at 919-560-3925 ext. 25240 or 919-906-0840.