By Susan Lagsdin
The work tables in the big, airy art room at Eastmont High School are arranged almost counterintuitively: they form a hollow circle facing each other, with space around the perimeter.
Mark Wavra said, “At first they were in rows like school desks, but I figured, I gotta do it this way so they can run laps…”
“They” are the fortunate students whose art teacher knows what kids need, and it’s not always in the fine print of curriculum guidelines. He said, “You’ve got to do what you can to reach everybody.”
Reaching everybody is a career imperative for Mark, who knows how the arts can counteract the stresses and strains of growing up. In his dream district, with a dream budget, he might offer full year K-12 music, visual art and theater movement classes with staff and facilities matching team sports dollar-for-dollar.
Mark attributes his ability to think pan-arts and integration to growing up in Ephrata, where everybody played a role, so to speak, in each other’s lives: three-season athletes also sang in the choir, acted in plays, and took all the art classes. He grew up doing it all, and his fine arts focus at Central Washington University could have as easily been theater.
He offers all his art students — five groups a day — a rich mix of media and methods, but his personal off-the-clock favorite is drawing, which soothes him like a journal does a writer. Landscapes, cityscapes and even people at meetings — his pen keeps filling his sketchbook. He also does an occasional oil or watercolor painting and experiments with digital photography.
“I’m not an expert at any one art, but I am an expert learner,” he said, defining further, “I work hard, I ask questions, I’m unafraid to fail, and I always promise more than I can deliver!”
But deliver he does, whether its a job or a volunteer project. That last trait keeps him on track to meet his own expectations.
As Drama Club advisor at E.H.S. for 13 years, he multitasked on plays, usually an intensive 10 weeks twice a year from auditions to closing night. He masterminded set design and construction, costume, make-up, publicity and everything in between with mostly student volunteers, but he liked it that way; their personal investment and enthusiasm was heartening.
“Well,” he admitted, “maybe I’d go in on a Sunday to undo something the kids had cobbled together — like a platform that wasn’t going to hold anybody. But that was the job.”
Closing the curtain on his drama position with 2012’s musical Bye Bye Birdie, he segued into the North Central Regional Library’s traveling puppet program. Shaping talk into scripts and storyboards with puppetry partner Brian Higgins is a two-man circus.
“We laugh a lot,” Mark said, “and some of our ideas… well, it’s children’s theater — they just don’t make it to the stage.” Improvisational puppetry may seem miles away from directing musicals, but it’s showing him an intriguing path to some alternate form of unscripted, multi-art, interactive theater.
Creativity’s not all whimsy and clever ideas.
Mark’s innate sense of order and discipline help shape his projects, and too much freedom might spoil him, he said. “I work best with budgets, deadlines, creative restraints — they help me channel my energies and focus my work.”
From his first year in Wenatchee, he’s enjoyed other ways to channel energies. He moves. He swims rigorous laps with friends three mornings a week and hits the trail Thursdays with Run Wenatchee. He bikes, road and mountain, all over the Valley and competes in running/biking events “when time and opportunity allow.”
He gauges himself well.
“If I ever have a bad day at work, maybe just slightly ‘off,’ I know it’s because I didn’t get my heart rate up that morning. I need to clear the static from the attic.”
Mark is also clear about what sustains him on a larger scale.
Likening life to a four-burner stove, he says he’s using three burners, and that’s just enough: family, work, and health.
His wife and two teenage children, arts and teaching (often blissfully interconnected) and vigorous daily exercise satisfy him.
Mark’s made his mark in the arts all over this valley for years, but he said, “If I ever accomplish anything big, it won’t be from a heroic effort, it will be from doing a little bit every day and keeping at it until the job is finished.”