When I read in Britain’s Observer newspaper last month that Christina Hendricks went to Fairfax High School, I assumed that the reference was to a school in that part of Los Angeles known as Fairfax. Could “Mad Men’s” pneumatic, auburn-haired Joan really have lived around here?
Yup, it turns out. But she wasn’t particularly happy about it. The very first line of the story was “Christina Hendricks hated her high school.”
The Observer continued: “From the start, Hendricks was bullied. ‘We had a locker bay, and every time I went down there to get books out of my locker people would sit on top and spit at me. So I had to have my locker moved because I couldn’t go in there. . . . I felt scared in high school. It was like ‘Lord of the Flies.’ There was always some kid getting pummeled and people cheering.’ ”
I guess the message is: Don’t spit on your high school classmates. You never know who may eventually end up as Esquire magazine’s Sexiest Woman Alive.
I wondered what the reaction was like at Fairfax High, the school Hendricks hated.
“It was so shocking,” said Erich DiCenzo, the school’s director of theater arts. “That is not at all the impression that I have had here, not in the slightest.”
Doug Kain, a Fairfax senior, said: “There’s always the random incident you hear about — some kid is bullying another or acting like a moron — but it’s very rare. It’s not the kind of thing that I would ever regard as typical for the school.”
Emily Dillard is a 15-year-old Fairfax sophomore. Like Doug, Emily said some kids do stupid stuff. “But I found everyone in the theater department is very welcoming,” she said. “It’s theater, not drama, as our teacher would say.”
Both Doug and Emily do drama. It turns out that the one bright spot in Hendricks’s high school life in the early 1990s was Fairfax’s theater department.
Erich just started his second year at Fairfax. Enrollment in his classes has doubled compared with last year.
“Athletes are in my class now and are finding a home,” he said. “There’s something special about theater students. It’s a very welcoming environment. That existed before I came.”
The school got good reviews for its offerings last year, which included the musical “9 to 5.” This fall, they’ll offer “The Curious Savage,” a play about an eccentric millionaire. The spring musical is “Big.”
As a former high school thespian myself, I can say the experience definitely promotes camaraderie, whether you’re part of the tech crew, stage crew or cast. Erich thinks it provides more than just that.
“Where education is going now, every document has the phrase ‘to make students college- and career-ready,’” he said. “And I always say there is no class that does that as comprehensively and thoroughly as a theater class. . . . If a student is going to work at McDonald’s or is trying to become a CEO or wants to be on Broadway, what cannot be denied is they will have to sit in front of another human being in an interview-type setting. What theater offers is it opens the door to examining ourselves — who we are, what we have to offer — and along the way we build really valuable skills.”
Emily said Christina Hendricks would be welcomed back to Fairfax “with open arms.” She probably wouldn’t recognize the place. “Fairfax had an absolutely beautiful renovation,” Emily said. “It’s light in the hallways, which is great. It’s a little less enclosed. There’s no graffiti really. If you go into a bathroom stall, there’s no profanity written on it.”
Hear that, Christina? Please let Fairfax bury the hatchet.
Erich is glad the actress found a home in the theater department, which he said should be an oasis amid whatever woes teenagers are experiencing.
He added: “I’ll say this: I think I have some Christina Hendrickses in my classes — and Christopher Hendrickses. I am shocked by the amount of talent that exists in high school nowadays. . . . I would venture to say that she is not the only one who will come from Fairfax.”
Recently I spoke to a group at Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington. It was a lovely audience and gave me a very warm reception. I imagine the reception would have been even warmer if the speaker had been Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.): We’re talking torches and pitchforks warm.
Several people I met were steamed that Gillibrand had called Arlington “a soulless suburb” in her new memoir. Gillibrand said she’s happier living on Capitol Hill, which of course is a lovely place. But I wonder how much she really knows about Arlington, like the fact that it was originally part of the city she now lives in.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.