He might have started as just a small fish, but Dylan Werth has just signed to take steps toward bigger roles. His teacher credits the hard work he’s done behind the scenes.

On Wednesday afternoon in the school cafeteria, Thomas More Prep-Marian High School celebrated the senior in a signing ceremony with Sterling College, not for sports, but for scholarships in theater and music performance.

“The funny thing is, he started on crew backstage and he was the most quiet kid, just kind of lurking in the shadows,” Travis Grizzell, debate, forensics and drama teacher, said of Werth’s first year in a production.

That was his sophomore year in “The Little Mermaid.” An audition got Werth a part in the fish chorus.

“I didn’t do anything my freshman year because I was scared,” Werth said after the ceremony.

But he always knew he wanted to perform. His aunt, Wendy Richmeier, was involved with Hays Community Theater from its start, and Dylan said she helped him take his first steps into theater.

After “The Little Mermaid,” Werth said he knew he needed to let people know he was serious and wanted to be on stage. He had heard everything a person does in theater is like an audition.

“I was like ‘Well, I’m going to be here all the time then,’ ” he said.

And he was, Grizzell said.

“I’ve literally had to kick him out of the auditorium,” he said.

The spring of his sophomore year, in a small role as a flamboyant prince in the “Merchant of Venice,” Werth stole the show.

“After a two-and-a-half hour Shakespeare show, this character that had probably five minutes of stage time, that’s what everybody was talking about,” Grizzell said.

“He went up there and everybody just wanted more of that character because he did so much with it and just was so theatrical, and I really think that’s what got him hooked,” Grizzell said.

From there, Werth has had roles in school productions like “Into the Woods” and “Oklahoma” and at HTC in “Little Women” and “Mary Poppins.”

Werth is just as active behind the scenes, helping with set building and design, costumes and props, Grizzell said.

“He takes it seriously. He’s very passionate about theater,” Grizzell said.

Werth is currently assisting Grizzell’s daughter as assistant director for the upcoming production of “Steel Magnolias” and helping his aunt with some children’s productions, among other works.

That all-around experience will suit him well at Sterling, said Sasha Hildebrand, assistant professor of theater, who attended Wednesday’s signing.

“We look at our theater program as more of a technical, almost vocational, program. So it’s really going to get people ready to go out and actually do the jobs that are available in theater, especially in the technical aspect,” she said.

The Christian college with a total enrollment of about 650 has five to seven productions a year, Hildebrand said. Its theater arts department also puts on an annual theater workshop day that is free of charge for high schools, she said. Grizzell has been taking his TMP students to the workshop for about 10 years.

Werth said right now, his career goals are fairly wide open, but he knows he will always be involved in the arts.

“I don’t think I would make a good teacher,” he said with a laugh.

“I don’t plan on ever leaving the arts. Live theater would probably be the main focus. I wouldn’t want to go into film or anything. There’s a certain quality that live theater can only obtain. You never truly know what’s going to happen,” he said.