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The Importance Of Theatre Teachers

Theatre teachers, drama teachers

The best lesson that my theatre teachers in high school could have ever taught me was to keep going even when you think you can’t. Every time that cast list went up and my name wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I was devastated. But I kept showing up. I kept taking on responsibilities and did my best to help out wherever possible.

We all have them.

Those teachers who stick with you, even years after you have them in class. Every time you pull out the yearbook, you’re instantly flooded with memories once you come across their picture on the faculty page.

These teachers didn’t just teach you what was in the syllabus. They taught you life lessons too. Lessons that stick with you for years after graduation. The very fact that you can recall these teachers shows the enormous impact that they had on you.

If you were a theatre kid like I was (and still am), I’m willing to bet that this influential person was none other than your theatre teacher. They were most likely your favorite teacher (or if you had a bad experience, your least favorite). You most likely spent hours upon hours of rehearsals, tech nights, and performances with them. And most likely, they knew way too much about your personal life.

If this is sounding a lot like your high school theatre experience, you’re not alone.

My high school was huge. Over 2,000 students filled the hallways every day. When you already have a small circle of people you can call friends, those 2,000 classmates can feel like 2,000 strangers. By sophomore year, I was entirely out of options as for where to sit and eat lunch in the cafeteria.

I remember one day very vividly. I had become so frustrated with finding a seat in the cafeteria. I had been bouncing around from table to table, trying to find a group of kids that I felt comfortable enough sitting with. Finally, I asked the cafeteria worker for a styrofoam tray and booked it to the orchestra room.

I figured it would be better to eat alone in the orchestra room out of sight from the 800 kids sitting in the cafeteria than to put myself on public display as the kid who was sitting alone at lunch.

That was when my orchestra teacher and high school musical director poked her head out of her office and asked me what I was doing. Me, thinking I was in trouble, tried to come up with an excuse as to why I was sitting alone in the orchestra room with my lunch.

Instead of responding with anger (not that I expected her to), she invited me into her office where we launched ourselves into a discussion about the latest shows hitting Broadway that season. I finished my lunch and headed off to my next class, feeling much better about my day. That one day turned into a series of days eating lunch in my director’s office. Pretty soon, I was eating lunch there every day.

I started helping out with things around her office, becoming the second pair of eyes when it came to looking over program revisions for the upcoming spring musical. I took over the responsibility of managing the costume closet that held the various costumes of musicals past. I learned so much about the business behind theatre because my theatre teacher allowed me the opportunity to do so. By the time senior year had rolled around, I took the title of “Student Business Manager.” But by then, it was truly just a formality.

Over time, a few of my musical friends had started dropping in. We felt safe in the orchestra room with our musical director. She made us feel included and like we belonged. I know it’s a cliche of sorts to say that your students become your kids, but honestly my teacher was like a second mother to me. Her office was practically a second home for me and a few others. Some of us had pitched in together to buy a Keurig for the back room, further fueling my coffee addiction. At one point there was a panini maker, but once my teacher smelled bacon, she shut that down real quick.

Seeing how passionate my teacher was about theatre made me passionate about theatre. She inspired me to pursue this as a career, but most importantly, always keep a love for theatre burning within me.

Were there moments where I was frustrated? Sure. Every time a cast list was posted. I never got the part I wanted in the school musical. I was always the sidekick or a featured part. It took me until senior year to finally get even a supporting role.

But did I let that stop my passion or the relationship that I had established with my director? No.

The best lesson that my theatre teachers in high school could have ever taught me was to keep going even when you think you can’t. Every time that cast list went up and my name wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I was devastated. But I kept showing up. I kept taking on responsibilities and did my best to help out wherever possible.

These were life lessons that my theatre teachers were teaching me. What matters more than how you accept victory is how you deal with defeat. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now almost a year following my high school graduation, I do.

The remarkable thing is that even though I am graduated and off at college, they are still teaching me. Now and then I’ll find myself shooting off a text or e-mail to an old teacher asking for advice. And they’ll give it to me. Or vice-versa, they’ll check in and see how college is going. That is the sign of a teacher who cares.

My high school orchestra teacher wasn’t the only important theatre teacher in my life. I’ve had many, many others. Each of them worthy of an entire article just for themselves. Maybe I’ll share those stories someday. But the fact of the matter is, I have been blessed to have so many significant role models in my life that have shared their love of theatre with me, therefore fostering an appreciation of the art form within myself.

Whether you had a positive or negative experience with your high school theatre teacher (and whether you’ll admit it or not), they were fundamental in your development as an artist. Middle school and high school theatre are where we’re first exposed to this great art form. The educators that facilitate these programs in our schools have a tremendous task.

They don’t just teach theatre.

Theatre is not just acting out words on stage. Theatre is history. Theatre is music. Theatre is a science. Theatre is a math. Theatre is foreign language. Theatre is all of it wrapped in one.

Our theatre teachers are tasked with teaching life. That is their importance.

Did you have an influential theatre teacher in your life? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Freddie

Written by Freddie Miller

Freddie Miller is currently enrolled at The Pennsylvania State University pursuing a BA in Theatre Studies at the nationally recognized Penn State School of Theatre. A student member of The Dramatists Guild, Miller is a director, playwright, and dramaturg.

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  1. I finished class work for my MFA when I attended a production of “Raggedy Farm,” an original work by Johnny Simons. Intrigued by his visit to a mime class previously, his influence in that one class already opened my mind and heart to the Commedia dell’arte. Seeing his stage work was an epiphany. I was already studying dramatic creativity under another educational giant, Paul Baker, but when I saw Johnny’s work in practice I was stunned. I can never forget the visual images or his stagings rife with swirling iconography. His work epitomizes the “poor theatre.” Now even at 80, he is still producing extraordinary Texcentric, commedia inspired, original works at the Hip Pocket Theatre, aptly named because it was all funded out of his hip pocket. He is a national treasure and his troupe provided a proving ground for innumerable artists of all ilk. I aspire to find creative moments that take the simple and commonplace and transform it into ritual archetypes. I consider myself lucky to find two or three moments staging a work. Johnny’s work hits with a tidal wave of images and “show-biz” magic, all done with primitive tools and the leanest of budgets. I owe him everything. With great and enduring love for the mentor to many, in earnest, Dr. Tony E. Medlin

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