Over the years, we’ve had the chance to speak with numerous educators, picking their brains about the art of teaching theatre. One question we love to ask is why they decided to start teaching theater. From the longtime theater geeks, to those inspired by a teacher of their own, to those who stumbled into it, every story is different. Here are their answers.
Theatre literally saved me. I had a rough upbringing, and when I found theatre my junior year in high school, I had come home. Theatre took me off a very dodgy path, and fueled my creativity, and gave me a haven. I started off as an actor/singer, and found out that I was a director. I always wanted to teach, though. I had some amazing, encouraging teachers who pushed me in the right direction. So it is the old adage, “There was a teacher . . .” Theatre transformed me, and I wanted to help share that love with others.
—Molly Rice, St. Stephens High School
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.
—Aidan O’Hara, Weston Middle School
The huge salary, the fame, the glamour, and the massive public respect. Sure, the paparazzi can feel overwhelming at times, but I just slip into the hot tub in the back of my stretch limo and the stress is gone.
Haha. Just kidding.
I’m a teacher by accident, actually. Years ago, I was directing Tina Howe’s Museum for BackStage Theatre in Chicago. After the show, Matthew Kerns, then the head of the Theatre Department of the Chicago Academy for the Arts approached me and asked if I would direct the show for his high school students. I declined, “I hated high school when I was in it. I wouldn’t want to go again.” He offered me a paycheck, so I changed my mind and accepted. And I loved it immediately. The fearlessness and energy of the students was infectious. Being challenged to articulate and clarify my own artistic process also made me a better artist. I basically did everything in my power to convince the school to hire me full time. Within a year, I’d succeeded. I’ve never looked back. I see teaching as an extension of being a theater artist. I absolutely love what I do, and I’ve been fortunate that both schools where I’ve worked (Chicago Academy for the Arts and now Village Academy Schools) have supported my theatrical life outside the classroom. I’ve never stopped writing, acting, and directing in local theater.
—Danielle Filas, Village Academy
I love teaching teenagers. I have been blessed with incredible talent and my kids love doing what they do—and what’s really cool is that they come from all areas of the school…band and choir, football and basketball and volley ball players, cheerleaders, and special needs. It’s quite rewarding for me.
—Deborah Carlson, Columbia Central High School
I really stumbled back into this world, to my great delight. Theater was my life in high school and I began college as a theater major, though I switched to graphic design my sophomore year. Years later, I became an elementary teacher and taught in Chicago for 8 years. I’ve heard it said that teaching is 90% theater and I think that that is true. Moving to Nairobi 4 years ago, I realized that I was now part of a k-12 school (and thus, containing a high school theater department). I offered to assist the high school director on the fall play and found I still loved it. After two years, she unexpectedly had to stay in the States, and so I stepped up to direct. It really reawakened my love for theater and I was delighted to discover that what I loved about it as a teen was still exactly the same. The high school theater community—really more of a family—is something special. Drama kids are an awesome group—hard working, incredibly committed, creative, encouraging of one another, fearless, diverse in their skills and temperaments. My daughter, who was starting high school when we arrived, found a home here too (and didn’t mind my being a part of it), so I’ve loved doing so many shows with her as well. Being able to now be on the adult side of this world and helping today’s theater kids is an incredible privilege.
—Steven Slaughter, Rosslyn Academy
I always enjoyed performing in front of an audience, but there weren’t many opportunities available to me in high school to participate in speech, debate, and drama. I loved the few experiences I had in these areas and developed a passion for them early on! I knew I wanted to work with students to provide opportunities for them that I didn’t have—and to satisfy my own love of performance. This passion continues today as I begin my 50th year of teaching and coaching.
—Gay Brasher, Leland High School
I am a performing arts nerd. I grew up studying art, ballet, rock ’n’ roll and theater.
—Julliette Beck, Public Academy for Performing Arts