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Don’t dream it, be it: Drama teacher David Holmes wraps up 30-year career with ‘Rocky Horror’

June 4, 2014 6:48 AM

After 30 years, David Holmes is doing the time warp again.

Mr. Holmes once joked he would direct “The Rocky Horror Show” as his swan song before retiring as the San Marcos High School drama teacher. “What are they going do? Fire me?” he said back in the 1980s.

Well, it turns out, Mr. Holmes, 60, spent his entire 30-year teaching career at San Marcos, and as the Santa Barbara resident retires this month, alumni won’t let him forget his joke. He’s directing “The Rocky Horror Show,” known for the song “The Time Warp” in which everyone dances and sings, “Let’s do the time warp again!”

Mr. Holmes’ former students will perform the spoof of sexuality, transvestites, and sci-fi and horror movies at midnight June 12 and

7:30 p.m. June 13 at the high school theater on Hollister Avenue. It’s for mature audiences.

It will wrap up a career in which Mr. Holmes encouraged his students to push the envelope in profound plays and big musicals. Like the cast sings in “Rocky Horror,” “don’t dream it, be it.”

The 1973 play inspired the 1975 cult classic movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show ,” starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick. Just like at the movie screenings, audience members at San Marcos can wear costumes and call out lines to heckle the characters. Be loud!

Although he never dressed up, Mr. Holmes has gone to a few screenings. “I’ve always enjoyed how campy it is. It’s ridiculous and so much fun.”

He knew the show, with its adult content, would be one that he could never have high school students perform. Hence his joke that it would be his swan song before retirement. While more serious musicals remain among his favorites, he praised “Rocky Horror” for being ahead of its time in accepting gays and bisexuals.

The show’s “Time Warp” dance starts with a step to the left. Mr. Holmes has taken many steps, to the left, right, back and front in his 30 years.

His students have tap danced in musicals such as “Kiss Me Kate” and an outer space version of the classic “Anything Goes.” They have tackled Shakespeare and dived into profound plays such as “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Crucible.” And they’ve sung and danced in everything from “Fiddler on the Roof” to “My Fair Lady” and “Oklahoma!”

“I got to build a car!” Mr. Holmes told the News-Press in the back of the thousand-seat San Marcos High School auditorium, referring to converting an electric golf cart for the musical “Grease.” “I got to build Grease Lightning! I love doing that kind of stuff.” His hobby is restoring MGs (British sports cars), and he’ll have more time for that and acting in community theater during his retirement.

He said he’s retiring now because working on plays is exhausting and he isn’t recovering from productions as quickly as he did in his younger days. But he conceded he’ll miss tackling the challenges of the plays and helping students perform beyond their own expectations. He added that while he deals with kids with shorter attention spans today than 30 years ago, teaching drama hasn’t changed and his goals have remained constant.

“If the kids have fallen in love with theater, I have done my job,” Mr. Holmes said. “If they can’t live without theater, I’ve done my job. If they have to be in a theater to see a play or if they have to be on stage or back stage working, then I think I’ve done my job.”

Mr. Holmes said his most memorable teaching experiences include seeing his casts come together and take ownership of plays and helping individual students gain confidence. He recalled helping one kid who didn’t think he could play a brutish character in “Kiss Me Kate” and a shy actor who came out of his shell as a Keystone Kops-like sergeant in “The Pirates of Penzance.” “He suddenly had this big voice, and he was singing. It transformed his life.”

The student became a professional set designer for theater companies.

Like many of his students, Mr. Holmes, a Napa Valley native, grew up with dreams of Broadway.

He graduated in 1972 from St. Helena High School in St. Helena, Calif., and acted in plays in 1973-74 at Santa Rosa Junior College. Around that time, he started The New Players, a community theater group, and was a founding member in 1977-78 of a Santa Rosa melodrama company.

He also blended wines from 1973-77 at Korbel Winery in Guerneville.

He and Julie Holmes married in 1976, and job security and raising a family mattered more to him than an acting career full of auditions and rejections. (They have one child, Rebecca Holmes, 23.) He and Mrs. Holmes moved to Santa Barbara in 1978 after touring Southern California campuses and deciding he liked UCSB best. He earned a bachelor’s degree there in dramatic art in 1983.

In 1983-84, he did his student teaching at San Marcos High School and assisted famed drama teacher Marjorie Luke. After her retirement, he became the San Marcos drama teacher in 1984.

Since then, he has demanded excellence and yelled a lot at rehearsals. Once, when he thought he was shouting too much, he tried to be calmer.

“Then this girl said, ‘Mr. Holmes, it’s like you don’t love us anymore. You never yell at us anymore!'” Mr. Holmes said. “I can’t win!” he laughed.

“There’s a balance between the yelling and the nurturing stuff we do as a teacher – the praise and confidence-building,” Mr. Holmes said.

Inspired by Mr. Holmes and his enthusiasm, his students have gone on to careers in professional theater and Hollywood.

Brian Wankum, a 1987 San Marcos High School graduate who took Mr. Holmes’ classes, is a post-production producer for ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.” He’s playing Frank-N-Furter, the mad scientist/transvestite, in “The Rocky Horror Show.”

“David was great and patient and taught us so much – more than anything, the belief that you might want to jump in where you’re not sure you can even swim,” the 44-year-old Los Angeles resident told the News-Press at San Marcos High School. The alumni gathered on the auditorium stage for a photo shoot.

Glen Phillips, a 1987 San Marcos graduate, said Mr. Holmes taught him lessons that helped him succeed as the lead singer of the Santa Barbara band Toad the Wet Sprocket.

“One was to love the work itself. The other is to do the work,” Mr. Phillips, 43, said at San Marcos. He recalled how Mr. Holmes took his only line away from him in one play because he was goofing off too much. The lesson stuck with him: Take your craft seriously.

Mr. Holmes’ current students, who acted in “Les Miserables” in May, also praised him.

“I don’t think I’ve come across a teacher who truly loves his students and loves what he does as much as Mr. Holmes,” said Sam Brenner, 18, a senior who is acting in “Rocky Horror.”

Student teacher Riley Berris, who assisted Mr. Holmes during his final year and is succeeding him as the drama teacher, said she also was impressed.

“One of my favorite things he did during ‘Les Miz’ rehearsals, he brought down this big screen (for four days) and had different slides of paintings that were reflective of the story by Victor Hugo, so they (the students) could grasp the story behind the musical,” said Ms. Riley, 26, a 2006 Santa Barbara High School graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and fine arts in 2010 at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Mr. Holmes said he was proud of his students and their “Les Miserables” performance.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better. What a great way to end my career with something as strong as ‘Les Miz,'” he said with a smile.

“I will be back to watch the plays here. Guaranteed.”



San Marcos High School alumni will perform “The Rocky Horror Show” at midnight June 12 and 7:30 p.m. June 13 at the school theater, 4750 Hollister Ave. Tickets cost $25 for general admission and $20 for students. To purchase, call 967-4581 or go to

San Marcos High School alumni have reunited to act in “The Rocky Horror Show” at the school. From left are Tamara Jensen, Sam Brenner, Nancy Abrams, Jim Clark, Katie Furman, retiring drama teacher David Holmes and Natalie Rodrigue. Brian Wankum relaxes on the sofa. (Photo Courtesy of David Holmes)

David Holmes, left, has taught students such as Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket. Mr. Phillips said Mr. Holmes taught him to love t he arts and work hard. (Photo Credit: Steve Malone, Santa Barbara News Press)

Let’s do the time warp again! (Photos Courtesy of David Holmes)

The 2001 production of “My Fair Lady” was among the Broadway musicals Mr. Holmes has directed at San Marcos High School (Photo Courtesy of San Marcos High School)

San Marcos High School students perform “Les Miserables” in May. Mr. Holmes said it was a great way to wrap up his 30-year career there (Photo Credit: Brad Elliott)

In the 1970s, David Holmes was acting in community theater in the Napa Valley, where he grew up with dreams of Broadway (Photo Courtesy of David Holmes)

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