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I really appreciate Playscripts and their work toward creating better theater and theater experiences for all. Jay Muldoon Theater Teacher, Fairfield, OH
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Teacher Spotlight: Aidan O’Hara of Weston Middle School

We bring you another installment of our Teacher Spotlight series, where we chat with teachers from around the country, picking their brain about their theater program and the art of teaching theater. This month, we talked to Aidan O’Hara of Weston Middle School in Massachusetts, fresh off their run of Emma! A Pop Musical by Eric Price

DJW_8394.jpgWhat made you decide to teach middle school theater?

 I, myself, was a product of a great junior high and high school drama program. Values, like friendship, camaraderie, team work and family, continue to be a hallmark of my own program. To be able to explore your own voice and body, and play with different ways of expressing yourself is so powerful. Middle school, itself, is an incredibly raw age, and a strong middle school program (performing and tech), gives a home to so many students seeking a community within a school.

What do you love most about teaching middle school students?

I am constantly reminded that all of this is new. The material, the teaching and learning, etc.—you cannot take anything for granted. To see a student lock into theater, and see that they are good at it, is a remarkable feeling. When a student leaves Middle School—any student at any level, my goal is that they leave a slightly more dynamic person, prepared and ready to express themselves in a confident and celebratory way.

How do high school students benefit from taking theater classes and working on productions?

High School students continue that journey of exploring modes of expression. They can tackle scenes, monologues and character in deeper and more sophisticated ways. They can explore more complex topics as a company and a cast that can be a tremendous gift to their school. And doing a production? I cannot think of a more complicated and more creative endeavor. A student who participates in theater will be a better performer or theater artist, but they will also be a better doctor, lawyer, teacher, business person, contractor, engineer, etc.

westonSome middle school teachers might be intimidated by taking on a musical with their students. What advice would you offer them?

There is SO MUCH support now. There is support with production companies, but also support within your community. Every community is full of closeted set-builders, choreographers, marketers, musicians, artists, organizers. You just need to ask for the help.

What drew you to Emma! A Pop Musical?

When I saw Emma! promoted on Playscripts, I was immediately drawn to the overall concept. Anchoring it in Jane Austen’s Emma gave it instant credibility, and the song list only added to that impression. Upon reading it, I was impressed by the pace and style of the book, and how the songs were cleverly integrated and move the story forward.

What makes a show right for your students and your school?

I think it was the year to find a show that would showcase the depth of female talent in the drama club. In this musical, there a number of strong, varied, and interesting female characters, and I was excited by the fit. I also look for a musical that offers opportunities to feature ensembles and the entire company. I felt Emma! met that criteria in a number of ways. 

Emma! features pop songs by female artists like Whitney Houston, Katy Perry, and The Supremes. How did students react to this mashup of classic story and modern songs?

The students loved it. I feel they loved recognizing the more contemporary songs, and enjoyed digging a little deeper into the older songs. I feel, however, they responded to the idea that the songs actually felt part of the musical—a part of the story, rather than a pure showcase of famous songs. 

DJW_8422.jpgWhat was your favorite song in this musical? Why?

Hmmm. I grew to love so many! Initially, I was drawn to my own favorites like “Brave” and “King of Anything.” “King of Anything” paired with the classic record-scratching moment of a large school cafeteria scene made it super fun to stage. Then, as I worked with the material, other songs popped. “Stay” captured three different characters’ defining moment in clever and beautiful ways. “Make a Match for You” was also a fun one to play on repeat in the car.

What was your favorite moment of the production or rehearsal process?

I think adding the costume and scenic elements allowed us to really be in Highbury Prep. A lot of students responded to that boost of energy. And as always, that first rehearsal with the pit orchestra is awesome. Always my favorite moment.

 

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