Teaching drama to fresh young high-school students can be a challenge for seasoned pros. How to sustain the excitement? That's the question we asked drama teachers in the Columbus area as part of our 13th annual Dispatch high-school theater preview. "You have to have a passion for theater and a passion for students, and you have to constantly re-evaluate what you do," said Bronwynn Hopton, 67, who retired this year after teaching drama for four decades at Thomas Worthington.
Teaching drama to fresh young high-school students can be a challenge for seasoned pros.
How to sustain the excitement?
That’s the question we asked drama teachers in the Columbus area as part of our 13th annual Dispatch high-school theater preview.
“You have to have a passion for theater and a passion for students, and you have to constantly re-evaluate what you do,” said Bronwynn Hopton, 67, who retired this year after teaching drama for four decades at Thomas Worthington.
Ditto for Cindi Macioce, a drama teacher for 20 years, including the past 18 years at Gahanna Lincoln.
“One of the biggest things is to be able to pass that passion on to someone else, to light a fire under someone who might not know what theater can do for people,” said Macioce, 56.
After a challenging first year of teaching, though, Macioce found herself questioning her career choice until a veteran teacher offered some valuable advice: “Remember that you’re here for the kids. And you don’t teach content; you teach children.”
Since then, the foundation of Macioce’s career has been forging relationships with her students.
“They’ll do anything if you just find the right spark to light the flame,” she said. “And that’s kept me from burnout.”
At Beechcroft, drama teacher James Hagerman remain enthusiastic 27 years into the job.
“It’s never a dull moment because of the creativity and growth of the kids.”
A big help, he said, is that drama encompasses so many areas — from the arts and English to history (helpful in researching plays) and math and science (for designing and building sets).
Hagerman, 54, hopes to continue the work for another decade or so.
“What keeps me going is to see students become more confident and become better communicators through theater. My students keep me fresh as I age because they stay the same age. Their discoveries, about themselves and the world, revitalize me.”
Martha Fickle, 46, drama director for 20 years at Lakewood, agreed.
“When you lose the seniors and bring in the freshmen,” she said, “each cast and class develops its own personality.”
Each fall, Fickle plans team-building outings.
On Thursday, her students took a bus trip to a corn maze and cooked marshmallows over a bonfire.
“We try to do some fun activities to build a family feeling,” Fickle said. “The closer offstage, the closer they’ll be onstage.”
At Worthington Kilbourne, new technology keeps Holly Thompson engaged.
“We’ve gone from cassettes for sound effects to using a computer,” she said. “I’m always interested in seeing what we can add technically.”
When the Worthington native launched the school drama program in 1991, the theater had only a dozen lights, which were difficult to adjust. Today, the program has about 40, all easy to operate through joysticks.
“Also, the students are always bringing new ideas,” said Thompson, 50.
At the Fort Hayes Career Center, Steve Black has “reinvented” his afternoon drama program for each of his 15 years there.
After auditioning students from several school districts in January, he tailors his program to their strengths.
“Once I know who the new batch of talent will be, it allows me to adjust the curriculum and select a season relative to their strengths,” said Black, 59.
Because his 2013-14 students have a knack for comedy, Black will bring in a guest director to stage Charley’s Aunt, a classic gender-bending farce.
“I love to encourage my students to risk and give them an opportunity to breathe.”
For most of his 33 years at St. Charles Preparatory School, Doug Montgomery has focused on staging newer works.
“What I love more than anything is the process as much as the product — researching new shows and finding out about new things,” said Montgomery, 57. “It’s the journey getting there that keeps me involved.”
Montgomery discovered the stimulating potential of new playwrights and new ways to use a stage when he took a five-year break in the mid-1980s to “revitalize” himself by earning a master’s degree at Ohio University and acting professionally with Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater.
“Anybody who’s watched Doug teach or direct sees his passion to challenge young men to excel,” said Jim Lower, St. Charles principal.
St. Charles produces more central Ohio premieres than any other area high school, with three planned for this season.
“The old chestnuts are all pretty safe,” Montgomery said.
“By doing a lot of new works or shows I’m not familiar with, it helps me avoid burnout.”