Set from Owl Gate Theatre's production of

Set from Owl Gate Theatre’s production of “Mr. Paradise” by Tennessee Williams

I just started my twenty-sixth teaching year. Directing educational theater, with the exception of a short few years when I went back to grad school, is a consistent, anchoring component of my adult life.  Thinking back on theater as both a student and teacher, I realized that since the third grade, when I took part in a Bicentennial performance piece at my elementary school, I’ve been in some kind of rehearsal process for a large portion of almost every year since I eight years old.

I remember a lot of really great teachers.  My experience as an older student back in grad school was one of the best gifts I ever gave myself as an artist and educator, providing a degree that I needed professionally, but more than that, a revitalization of my art practices.  Not too long ago, a large gathering of peers from my undergraduate college days came together to hold a scholarship fundraising event in memory of a beloved theater director and teacher.  I never had the opportunity to study or work with him in the ways that many of my closest friends and artistic collaborators did, but the event was certainly a tribute to his legacy and the institution itself, a very progressive Vermont arts college, which greatly shaped our experience as theater artists and produced an exceptionally strong caliber of professional artists, writers, performers in many, many competitive arts professions, especially for such a small student population.

I wasn’t always a great student; in my younger days, I was an interesting, creative, but undisciplined student.  I loved being in theater, initially it was a place where the misfit-me found a sense of belonging. I loved performing, but the path to the stage wasn’t always easy for me.  Though the theater itself felt like a home, it was also one of the places I felt most negatively judged by some of my theater teachers.  In my teens and twenties, I was a rather flamboyant gay actor (during the mid to late ‘80’s), and sometimes the least nurturing of my teachers were other gay men, older men I wanted to be mentors and allies. Comments were made to me by drama teachers/directors that I would never, never, never imagine saying to my own students. I was told I was uncastable, despite finding professional experiences out of school, and I steered myself towards performance art, dance, directing, and costume design when the criticism and lack of opportunities seemed insurmountable.

After I graduated from college, I arrived in New York City in an era when so many gay men were dying of AIDS. I remember the awe of seeing queer characters on stage in Broadway productions of Angels in America, Rent, Love! Valour! Compassion. I found community in activism, and we took to the streets to fight for our lives and the lives of our loved ones. I applied my theater skills to giant props for street actions, and making costumes/painting scenery for original or reworked plays for the small, ultra-progressive school and summer camps at which I was first hired to teach. Teaching theater was an anchor in the midst of great changes including gentrification of New York pushing the artists, unable to withstand the rising rents, further and further away from the city itself. Eventually, I moved to Baltimore, where I could still buy a home on a regular school teacher salary.  In the peak of my New York years, I directed more than ten school productions a year, designed costumes professionally, and ran successful theater programs during summers and after school programs.  My own progressive education instilled a belief in theater that is inclusive, diverse, and participatory; these qualities are at the heart of my work all these years later.  

Now an educator and administrator at an all-girls school, my background in gender and feminist studies is a central, core foundation for my leadership in the arts.  I am deeply committed to supporting the work of women playwrights and an advocate for more inclusive diversity in theater.  These values inform actions, such as an ongoing search for the right plays so that my students are empowered, as well as challenged as performers and thinkers. I am mindful of the importance of making visible the stories too seldom told.  I work diligently at discovering age-appropriate material for a wide range of grade levels, and we’ve added a community theater program that provides students an opportunity to work with local performers.  Many of my former students are accomplished performers way beyond my own professional performance career, and others are also teachers, or in professions where their art backgrounds are a vital part of their jobs.

At the start of my twenty-sixth teaching year, I share these thoughts from a life of learning, both on and off the stage. I am grateful to have shared many wonderful theaters with thousands of students and many amazing colleagues over the past twenty-five years, and next week, rehearsals start for the first musical of the new school year.