Teachers brew up laughs, cash
Francisco Barbas, Jason Dutmers, Phil Sumida and Alan Matan warm up during Maine South's Coffee House event Jan. 18. Barbas and Dutmers are spanish teachers at Maine South and Matan and Sumida are teachers at Maine West. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:07AM
Plastic chairs and tables scattered about the dimly lit room. Strands of colorful lights were strung overhead, while the sweet smell of chocolate and coffee beans wafted in the air.
Welcome to Coffee House.
Here, on Jan. 18, the theater department at Maine South High transformed the back stage of Watson Auditorium for an evening show performed by faculty and staff.
Theatre director and teacher John Muszynski said the event — now in its 18th year — serves several purposes: To raise money for student scholarships, to give students a taste of the nightclub scene and to showcase teachers’ fun side. This year’s Coffee House raised $900.
He used the term “talent show” loosely to describe the event. Anyone who is willing to get on stage is welcome to perform. There are no auditions or rehearsals.
“Things just kind of happen,” Muszynski said.
There’s not a lot of promotion before the event because the backstage space is limited in its seating capacity. Roughly 200 to 250 people attend yearly, Muszynski said, many who “BYOM” — bring their own coffee mugs.
“It’s really a lot of fun,” said senior Karina Koch, 18, a past attendee who sipped from a stainless steel tumbler.
Koch said fine arts faculty are known to be entertainers, and that the musical talents of Spanish and history teachers impressed her, too.
Muszynski agreed that the hidden talents of staff are somewhat surprising at first. Then there are those teachers who perform simply to get a good chuckle.
“I’m amazed by how some just want to embarrass themselves,” he said.
Drama teacher Lauri McCleneghan — who is “not a performer, per se,” she said — got a round of laughs after every pun she humorously delivered, including the gem: “Did you hear the one about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?”
A dramatic reading of Taylor Swift’s break-up song “We Are Never Getting Back Together” by Jose Arguello resulted in the blond-wigged Spanish teacher being booted off stage by a student in purple shades.
“I’m a let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best poems of the year!” said the Kanye West lookalike, referencing the now-infamous incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
A song performance by music teacher Becca Oppenheim with two special guests also got a big round of applause.
With her smiling son Charlie on her hip, Oppenheim and two-and-a-half-year-old Avery sang children’s song “Skidamarink” to kick of the show.
Just-for-fun acts accompanied those that showcased raw talent, like a jazz piano rendition of “Take the ‘A’ Train” by newly-hired safety monitor Phillip Patterson.
Francisco Barbas, now in his 19th year at Maine South, uses music to teach students Spanish. Outside the classroom he plays in all an all-teacher rock band, which played songs by U2, Jimmy Eat World and Coldplay at this year’s school show.
“It’s one of my favorite nights of the year,” said Barbas, who has participated in every Coffee House event.
The lead guitarist of the group, called Celtic Bikini, is Maine West Physics teacher Phil Sumida. Maine South Spanish teacher Jason Dutmers plays the drums. Maine West ESL-Foreign Language Department Chair Al Matan doubles as their bassist and “virtual manager.”
The band regularly plays gigs at area venues. Having students and parents cheer for them at the annual Maine South show, however, always makes for a good time, Barbas said.
“What I enjoyed the most is the warmth of the audience and how they respond to what we do,” he said.
Andrea Thomas said the faculty’s variety of skills and talents keeps her coming back.
“They are amazing,” said Thomas, whose daughter, Sarah, 17, is a senior at Maine South.
Both agreed the show is a unique opportunity for students to see their teachers in a different light.
“I think it’s a great way for kids to sit back and watch a performance from some of our mentors,” Sarah Thomas said.