GROTON -- It was a bittersweet moment over the weekend of April 11-12 when students from the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District's drama guild performed William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" with adviser Allison Martell watching in the wings.

As the team of student actors, technicians and set designers progressed through the play, bringing such classic characters as Prospero, Ariel and Caliban to life, they were also bidding farewell to a beloved teacher, a casualty of fiscal belt-tightening.

Principal Michael Mastrullo was compelled to release Martell to save money but has assured students that the drama guild would continue as an after-school program supported by fundraising, ticket sales and other fees.

That, however, was cold comfort for students who regard each other as family.

"The drama program is my home away from home," said Rachel Olson. "I was never a popular person, and was seen by a lot of my peers as just another geek. The drama program gave me the support to say that I am, indeed, a geek, and I am proud of it. Everyone involved in the drama program has come together as a family, and I'm honored to be a part of it."

"The students in this program not only share similar interests, but relate to each other on a much more personal level than other groups," added fellow student Callum McLaughlin. "None of us hold judgments against one another and we always want to accept more students. I now look forward to coming to school and spending time with these amazing people."

"The drama community has been accepting of me since day one and has extended that to every student who walks into the black box," said student Jack Phelps. "It sounds cliché, but we really are all friends with each other and we save the drama for the stage."

One exception was made on March 12 when students appeared before the School Committee to plead for the preservation of their program and Martell's job.

"If more parents volunteer, and the school begins to fund the productions and drama guild again, there is a chance the program will continue," said Martell. "I am staying hopeful that the productions will be able to continue as many of the students are passionate about theater and want to continue doing it in college and possibly as a career.

"But along with losing me as a director," she said, "the program is also losing my teaching and technical expertise. They will now need to hire a director, a technical director and designers for the set, lights and sound. Since I have been part of this school system for so long, I have been working at a very reduced price, something which very few theater professionals would be willing to do for an after-school club. The productions are funded entirely through fundraisers the students hold and through ticket sales, which often is not enough to cover the current price of productions."

That, however, was not enough to stop the group's latest performance from going ahead with a troupe of 20 students on stage, 10 helping out behind the scenes and a score who built the sets for opening night.

"At the end of every school year, the students in the drama guild suggest scripts for the following year's season," said Martell. "Then I go through all of the suggestions striking any that we would be unable to do based on cast size, royalty price or technical difficulty. Next, I put together a brief presentation to introduce the students to the scripts and the students vote, naming their top three choices. I add up the votes, and decide, of the top choices, which will fit best as the fall show, and which will fit as the spring show. "The Tempest," in particular, was chosen for this year's spring show because it had a large cast, had many large parts, is royalty free, and had many technical aspects for the tech students to play with."

"For this year and last, the drama program was both in school and after-school, and closely tied together," said Martell. "The classes help the students grow as actors and technicians through learning the techniques and theories in theater while the after-school program gave a hands-on environment to put that learning into practice."

And putting learning into practice will be the order of the day without Martell present to help students. Her spirit, however, will likely continue to be felt as the drama guild perseveres with ambitious talk of moving their next performance off campus to the Groton Grange.