Los Altos Archives: A Theater Teacher Who Inspired a Community of Artists


Matilda Haney Foulds

Michael Terrance Hines and Patricia Messina at Los Altos High School theater department reunion last Saturday, May 6.

Los Altos High School’s self-proclaimed theater kids from the 1970s found themselves back together nearly 50 years later, last Saturday night, May 6. They all gathered in the name of a single man, Michael Terrance Hines, to help him celebrate his 80th birthday. 

Hines was a theater teacher at LAHS from 1971 to 1976. He grew up in the small town of Alliance, Ohio with his five brothers and sisters. He got his first taste of the arts as a student at Central Catholic High School, where he took his first acting classes. After high school, Hines went on to graduate from Kent State University with a masters in theater and directing.    

“[I] realized that I had an opinion about things, creatively, so I was drawn to that,” Hines said.

Before he really had a chance to venture outside of Ohio, Hines was drafted into the Vietnam War. He was in the Navy reserve for four years and called up to action for two years. Hines believes himself to be one of the lucky ones, as he got to return to his life back in the States with relative ease. 

Once he returned, he moved to California and began his first teaching job in East Palo Alto. He taught at an elementary Catholic school for a year, until applying to teaching positions at Palo Alto High School and LAHS. When the results came back, he ended up picking LAHS.   

Hines taught Theater, English and creative writing at LAHS and acting classes at West Valley Junior college. Hines wasted no time making the theater program at LAHS his own. His former students tell great tales of their creative ventures. 

“He had no fear, he didn’t care if he got in trouble, he just wanted to create something brilliant on stage,” class of ‘74, two time Primetime Emmy nominee and one time winner for outstanding makeup Patricia Messina said. 

Hines took it upon himself to push the limits of theater, both creatively and content wise. He did not shy away from the likes of Shakespeare and Lonesco, encouraging his students to conquer the most challenging of playwrights. During his time at LAHS, the theater department averaged six to eight shows a year.  

“The sheer volume of material we did,” Mathew Allen, class of ‘76, remarked in awe. 

Among some of the plays included: “The Bald Soprano,” “The Lesson,” “Marat/Sade,” “Bury the Dead,” an anti-war play perhaps inspired from Hine’s time in the Vietnam war, “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Twelfth Night,” “Godspell” and “King Henry IV.” 

“We lived [the plays] really,” Allen continued. 

During his short five years, Hines shaped his students into great actors and human beings. The community Hine created was considered a second home to many of his students. Hines recognized the potential in each of his students and ensued in them confidence and a deep love of the arts. Almost all of the students Hines taught during his time at LAHS went on to pursue careers in acting, managing and directing. None of them forgot about the teacher that changed their life. 

“It was a profound, formative and inspiring presence in my life,” Allen said. 

“I considered Terrance to be my best friend in high school,” Andrew Margarin, class of ‘75, and former student of Hines’s said. 

“Kindness, to the tenth power, generosity, and brilliance,” Messina added. 

Nearly 50 years later, close after Hines’s 80th birthday, his students held a reunion in his honor just ten minutes from the campus where they all met. Some had reconnected after high school, others hadn’t seen each other since graduation. The room was filled with excitement as old friends embraced and reminisced on their high school experience.   

On the way to the reunion, Hines made sure to revisit the campus and new theater.

Hines revisits new theater at LAHS campus. (Courtesy Patricia Messina)

One by one former students stood up and once more took to the stage, meaning in front of the one in the back of the room, to thank the man that had brought them all together. Some retold stories of infamous cast parties, brutal roasts, staying up until 3:00 a.m to build sets, performing in the cafeteria and letters of recommendations that would change the trajectory of their life. Hines sat there in the middle of it all, legs crossed, hands in his lap. Sometimes he would add in, causing a new wave of laughter; but mostly just took it all in. At one point, Hines realized he had worked at the same restaurant as some of his students in West Los Angeles, this prompted many more giggles.  

After many tears were shed, and bellies full, the night ended as these theater reunions usually do: with improv.   

Hines can now be found living in Los Angeles, still pursuing his dreams. He has written ten screenplays and short films, most time travel pieces, and managed several famous child actors, however he still thinks back to the magical years he spent creating art with his students at LAHS. 

Allen summed it up best: “His dedication, his professionalism, his worth ethic, [and] his love of the art just infected all of us.”