Meet the Teachers Who Are Shaping Broadway! How They Train Their Students to Make It to the Top

News   Meet the Teachers Who Are Shaping Broadway! How They Train Their Students to Make It to the Top What's the secret to making it on Broadway? These educators have the answers. Year after year, the students they work with go on to find careers on Broadway.

Junior Theatre Festival
Junior Theatre Festival Marcus Woollen

As part of Back to School week (#BwayBacktoSchool), Playbill.com reached out to a handful of educators from across the U.S. who have a track record for training future Broadway stars in their own classrooms. These dedicated teachers, guidance counselors and directors spoke to us about the challenges they think young artists face today, the skills they believe every young professional should have and what it takes to make it in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive industry.

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Jennifer Bauer-Conley
Director of Fine Arts, The Emery/Weiner School
Houston, TX
(6 years at Stagedoor Manor)
Jennifer's student success stories include Delaney Moro (Mary Poppins), Marissa O'Donnell (Shrek), Kathryn Faughnan (Mary Poppins).

About her passion for teaching theatre:
I love being able to help professionally-aimed kids reach their goals and become properly trained, so they have the tools to survive a long and healthy career in a demanding business. I also love working with kids who aren't necessarily on that track. An education in theatre brings with it an increase in confidence, creativity, collaboration, and empathy. Those tools are things we all can benefit from, regardless of our future lives and careers.

Delaney Moro
Delaney Moro

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
I think kids entering the theatre world today are facing a number of challenging factors. An interesting one that comes to mind is the changing nature of Broadway and the shows that are being created and produced. So much "new" work is not actually new – it's based on a movie, or TV show, or book. Opportunities to create a character from scratch with the author and director are more and more rare for actors. Young people in theatre have to be able to maintain their creative voice and perspective, while often re-interpreting a role that has already been ingrained in the public mind. What new skill sets should performers have?
Kids now have to be really careful to receive comprehensive vocal training. I call it the "American Idol" Factor... A lot of the vocal styles that are prevalent in popular music are not healthy for long term vocal viability. Far too often, I see young Broadway hopefuls who are emulating pop singers instead of really digging into legit vocal training. So many modern scores demand incredible range, and are focused on that high pop-belt sound. Teaching a healthy "belt" (really it's a clever and focused mix) is absolutely possible, but too often kids are studying with folks who are just teaching them to be really good at high yelling. It's not a long term solution.

The "truth" about theatre:
Theatre is storytelling, period. That is probably the thing my kids are most tired of hearing from me, but it's so true! If you can focus, at every level, on truthfully telling the story, the rest will sort itself out. Truthful storytelling onstage is what makes a show and a performance memorable, and that will never change.

Marissa O'Donnell
Marissa O'Donnell

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
I truly hope my students, and all students of theatre, remember to embrace and develop their own creative voice. Copycat, run-of-the-mill ingenues and mangenues are a dime a dozen. When you think about the performers you cherish and admire most, the thing they have in common is their originality. Every Broadway legend has a piece of themselves that isn't polished, isn't neatly packaged, or predictable, or perfect. Those seeming imperfections are what makes them special, and what makes them successful. Find your imperfections, your funny, squishy, weird spots. Embrace them, and find teachers and mentors who nurture them, instead of trying to fit you into an easy mold.

What have your students taught you?
My students have taught me so much more than I have ever taught them! They continue to teach me to look honestly at the world and myself; to find wonder and excitement in even the most seemingly mundane tasks and activities; and to not take myself so seriously! Being a theatre teacher is to be endlessly inspired by my kids' vulnerability and hunger. They teach me every day to fight the easy cynicism and jadedness that's so pervasive in our business. They make me a better person, and a better artist.

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Marty Johnson
Director of Education
iTheatrics
New York, NY
Marty's student success stories include Nicholas Christopher (Motown), Andy Huntington Jones (Cinderella), Catherine Charlebois (Wicked), Briga Heelan ("Cougar Town"), Alex Deleo (Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Justine Long (Saturday Night Fever)
Favorite shows staged with students: The pilot production of Ragtime: School Edition that I was able to direct while working at North Shore Music Theater. Changed my life.

About his passion for theatre:
It gives young people a chance to creatively express themselves in a safe environment. And I love that it is a very much a team sport – everyone is involved and important. You must learn to work together.

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
Their overly scheduled lives. Between family, school, sports, and friends – young people have more and more obligations now so there is often less time to just explore and play and get more experience. So while they might have the drive to make it as a young performer, they often don't have the time to learn the basic skill set needed to succeed.

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How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
There are more young people showing a strong interest and committing to the world of performing than ever before. This is great in terms of keeping the talent bar raised high, but tough as young people are facing more competition and therefore more rejections.

What new skill sets should performers have?
Beyond the basics of acting, singing and dancing – to successfully work in the business they need to:
1) Learn what it means to a professional - coming to each rehearsal prepared and focused, taking care of themselves physically and mentally, continuing to learn new skills, and being consistent in their performance.
2) How to make strong performance choices by bringing something of their own to the tables. Don't just be a blank page for the director to mold.

The "truth" about theatre:
It is a small world – don't burn any bridges. Seriously. Working hard is always more fun and rewarding than phoning it in.

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
Being a good person comes first. Ideally, you want to be the person everyone wants to be in the room. There will always be someone who can sing higher, or dance better, or is taller, but if you prove to be the person everyone loves working with, then you will get the opportunity to work.

Andy Huntington Jones and Paige Faure in <i>Cinderella</i>
Andy Huntington Jones and Paige Faure in Cinderella Photo by Carol Rosegg

What's the worst showbiz advice you've heard?
"You're the lead. You don't have to worry about what the ensemble is doing. Just make sure you look good." Or, "You don't need to learn to project, that's why they have microphones!"

What have your students taught you?
When it comes to art, there is no right and wrong. My ideas going into a rehearsal process might change dramatically when I see what the cast is bringing to the table. They often see things in a different way – and sometime their view is so much more interesting than the way I initially saw things.

Proudest moment as a teacher?
It was actually at a bar in midtown. A group of my former students had all recently graduated from college and they got together reminisce and invited me. As I sat there and look around the room – there were two people just back from a national tour, one was starting an Off-Broadway show, two were working in LA, one was now a teacher, etc. etc. And while their accomplishments were great, I was much more proud of the fact that they were all happy and laughing and they were doing what they loved. Knowing I had a small part in making that happen was really heartwarming.

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Audrey Kaplan
Founder of Applause Theatrical Workshops
New York, NY
Her student success stories include Erich Bergen (Jersey Boys), Skylar Astin (Spring Awakening, "Pitch Perfect), Sebastian Stan (Picnic, "Gossip Girl," "Captain America").
Favorite shows staged with students: A Chorus Line

About her passion for teaching theatre:
The reason I love teaching theater is because my mission is to create theater-goers and patrons of the arts for the future. I want to give the most through and challenging curriculum possible but in the end if every student ends up loving the theater and appreciates the hard work and labor of love that is put in, then hopefully I am creating a culture of artists and people who love the arts who will pass that down to generations of people. They will be audience members, donors, performers, producers, directors, stage managers, company managers, and people who love the arts.

Erich Bergen
Erich Bergen

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
The biggest challenges young performers face today is keeping them current with how fast the industry is changing. The careers are changing and so is the type of music and dance in the shows, so we need to teach them pop music and hip hop on top of ballet and jazz. You can't just teach Broadway songs anymore, because casting people want to see a complete book of all types of music. They must be trained in film since there are web series, TV, cable networks and readings. There are so many parts to the industry, and it is our job to keep them current, always.

How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
When I began, head shots were 8X10 black and white, and there was no internet. Now, entertainment media of all forms is instantly accessible globally and instantly.

What new skill sets should performers have?
Often they have to create their own work for themselves. They can't always wait for an audition or an agent to see them. We teach them that they need to learn to write and create projects for themselves that will show off their talents and work with people they believe in and have similar goals.

The "truth" about theatre:
You have to be working at a professional level at all times. Your reputation precedes you. You always must be easy to work with, work your hardest and be flexible. You must have a good attitude ALWAYS because the business is small, and directors call other directors to see how an experience went working with you. You always want to be spoken about as a pleasure to work with. You want to have good energy and words associated with your name. People want to know you are always prepared and that you do your work. Actors need to bring something to the table so that directors can see different ideas that you have come up with. Lastly, actors have to take direction on the spot. You must be able to make adjustments in the moment.

What's the worst showbiz advice you've heard?
The worst advice people have given students is that they can quit if they don't get the part they want. People let kids give up too easily. They don't think their is value in commitment and honoring it. They need to understand that most times you will not get a lead, and you need to learn to be a great member of an ensemble. The advice I would like to be taught to students is to take commitment seriously and show how great you can be.

Skylar Astin
Skylar Astin

What have your students taught you?
My students have taught me that every person has a different style of learning and you have to be able to figure out as a teacher and director how to teach them no matter that their style is. Some kids need a gentle touch, some need very a tougher approach, some need structure, some need to learn and then process after. But if you want to reach kids, you have to be flexible in your style of direction to get them to reach their full potential.

Proudest moment as a teacher?
My proudest moment as a teacher would be hard to say, since there have been so many over 20 years, but I guess my 20th year gala would be it. At the very last song of a show we put on, all of my current students came together with my staff of over 20 years, alumni from over 20 years came on stage to sing "Seasons of Love." I think it was the happiest moment of my life to see 20 years of work and love on stage at the same moment.

What is something everyone can take away from experiencing art in schools/arts education?
A confidence I don't think anything else can give you. It makes you think outside of the box. You are more accepting of different types of people, and you learn to work together no matter what. You learn to depend on the person next to you. You learn self-discipline, you learn public speaking, and you learn to walk into a room with your head held high and to look people in the eye. Nothing can replace these things.

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Bo List
Sayre School
Lexington, KY
(5 years at Stagedoor Manor)
Favorite show staged with students: Dark of the Moon at Stagedoor Manor in 2014

About his passion for teaching theatre:
It's the best thing in the world, isn't it? Pure fun: miserable, wonderful, terrible, scary, rewarding, horrifying fun.

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
I think it is the balance between art and commerce. A financially successful career doesn't always fulfill the performer artistically, and doing great art doesn't typically pay the bills. Finding the balance between doing great, nourishing, meaningful work and making a living is daunting.

How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
When I started out, the internet was brand new, and cable television was limited to a handful of popular channels with few quality scripted series. Now there are performing opportunities everywhere you look - online, on truly remarkable cable television shows, and on reality competitions. And, with any innovation, the greater the number of options, the greater the chance to see truly good (and truly awful) work.

Bo List
Bo List

What new skill sets should performers have?
The first obligation of any performer is to be heard and understood. Back when there was only stage acting, actors had tremendous voices, but today--with film, television, microphones, and even making videos on cell phones--good vocal production is harder to come by. The "new" skill set performers should have are those gained by getting back to basics.

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
Genius is wisdom and youth. For the love of God--enjoy your youth and have great fun--but do fascinating work and expand your horizons while you have the energy to explore them. You might get to taste, even for a moment, some small bit of genius.

What's the worst showbiz advice you've heard?
I wish young actors weren't being taught to use real life hurt and loss as emotional tools for their performances. Pain is dangerous stuff, and not to be tampered with for the sake of a play. Of course our experiences can be very useful in informing and enhancing our art, but only after it has healed sufficiently. So I would tell them that if a director tries to get you to remember Grandma's funeral or the sick puppy when trying to seem "sad" onstage--try something else.

What have your students taught you?
That I know nothing. Or, in the event that I know something, it is so little that I should also be studying while I'm teaching.

What is something everyone can take away from experiencing art in schools/arts education?
Empathy. When you've "walked a mile in someone else's shoes" you can stand taller in your own, having known the troubles, loves, frustrations, ideas, and thoughts of another spectacularly human being without judgment, and without fear of judgment. We need more of that.

If there is one thing that you hope your students take with them after studying with you it would be:
Be kind. One thousand years from now, the play you were in won't matter, and the costumes won't matter, and whether you knew your lines or not won't matter. But if you are kind--something in that kindness will survive, some way, somehow. And while it may not be remembered, it will endure.

David Moellenkamp

Los Alamitos High School, CA
(14 years at Stagedoor Manor)
Student success stories include Skylar Astin, Samantha Massell and more
Favorite show staged with students: 42nd Street

About his passion for teaching theatre:
I love watching kids grow into confident human beings.

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
I think the bar keeps being set higher in theatre every year. Young performers have to be able to have bigger vocal and acting ranges. The roles on Broadway currently are much more challenging then they were 20 years ago.

How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
I think there are now many more venues for talent to be showcased. YouTube and other shows on TV have opened up more opportunities for people to shine and be noticed.

David Moellenkamp
David Moellenkamp

What new skill sets should performers have?
Not only does a performer have to be a triple threat but they also need to know how to market themselves. The "truth" about theatre:
It's hard work. As a teacher we need to realize that the only limits our students have are the ones we place on them. As Jojo says in Suessical "Anythings Possible"!

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
If you believe you can achieve.

What's the worst showbiz advice you've heard?
"Try and imitate a performer." I think it's important to find truth in every character and imitation isn't always the quickest or best path in finding a character.

What have your students taught you?
My students have taught me the importance of being prepared. Students have about a 17-minute attention span and clear and precise instruction will certainly keep the students on task and focused.

Samantha Massell
Samantha Massell

Proudest moment as a teacher?
Watching one of my students succeed in a role she never thought she could do. She tried quitting the show and I wouldn't let her. Once she starting receiving affirmation from myself and other cast members you could see her world had changed. She ended up majoring in music theatre and working on Broadway.

What is something everyone can take away from experiencing art in schools/arts education?

The arts allow students to become more connected to the school. Sometimes the arts classes are the only reasons a child will want to attend school. Kids involved in the arts have higher attendance and graduation rates.

If there is one thing that you hope your students take with them after studying with you it would be:
Don't spend to much time questioning every decision and believing in yourself is the best gift you can give yourself and others.

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Janine Papin
Trinity Preparatory School
Winter Park, FL
Fine Arts Department Chair
Janine's student success stories include Denee Benton (The Book of Mormon), Amanda LaMotte (Matilda), Liza Luxenberg (production manager at Aurora Productions), Brian Gold (production/stage manager) and more...
Favorite shows staged with students: Aida, Ragtime, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Leonard Bernstein's Candide. A production of La Cage aux Folles that got shut down opening night and I took off campus to perform to sold out houses.

About her passion for teaching theatre:
I have the opportunity to inspire and encourage young people to discover what is inside of them, what makes them unique, and to start to understand what it is to be a fully functioning human being. I help them to develop insight, empathy, and self-confidence during their journey.

Janine Papin with Denee Benton
Janine Papin with Denee Benton

The biggest challenges young performers face today?
There are so many distractions in their lives. We more and more connect through technology and less face to face. Listening and connecting are of utmost importance on the stage and students must learn to do this without a phone in their hand.

How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
More technology is used in stage productions. Young audiences are used to constant sensory simulation and overload. One of the most common things that I hear from my youngest students when they see a box set production is that the set didn't change. They are used to "bells and whistles" and getting some of them to see the beauty in simplicity presents a challenge.

What new skill sets should performers have?
The ability to be flexible and be able to do something else on the side. Especially while waiting to get that first big break or between jobs, you need to be employable in some way. It also helps to have good people skills. And of course they need to be confident and resilient. (I am not sure if any of those are "new" skills, performers have needed these always).

The "truth" about theatre:
Live your life onstage (and off) honestly.
Be the best version of yourself at all times.
Have impeccable work habits and guard your reputation. The theatre community is very connected.

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
Your thoughts are self-fulfilling, dream big, but work harder, and you can achieve your goals.

What's the worst showbiz advice you've heard?
That a job in the performing arts is not a good idea. Teachers should encourage students' passions and dreams.

What have your students taught you?
Patience, persistence, and the need for a constant sense of humor. Also that I must model what I expect from them. I continue to be a working actress in local regional theaters and take classes myself. The more I learn, the better teacher I am.

Amanda LaMotte
Amanda LaMotte

Proudest moment as a teacher?
Sitting in a theatre as an audience member and seeing my former students perform as professionals and knowing that I was part of their path to this moment.

What is something everyone can take away from experiencing art in schools/arts education?
The majority my students do not become professionals, but their participation in theatre while in high school has lasting effects on their lives. They understand how to listen, how to connect, how to work as an ensemble. They learn the importance of body language and how to develop good communication skills. It builds their confidence and self-esteem and teaches them to use their imagination and be creative. Through acting you start to understand and empathize with other peoples' stories. And it builds a love and support for the performing arts. Plus the memories from positive experiences in the arts last a lifetime.

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Jennifer Shue
Guidance Counselor/Theater Director
Passaic Valley High School
Little Falls, NJ
Jennifer's student success stories include Jess LeProtto (Newsies, Bye Bye Birdie, On the Town), Heather Tepe (Billy Elliot, Matilda) and Michael Liscio (Avenue Q).
Favorite shows staged with students: Drowsy Chaperone, Spelling Bee, Wedding Singer

About her passion for teaching theatre:
I enjoy the process of directing shows. I love to see how it forms from beginning (auditions) to the final curtain. I also love that my students love to be there and I know it's a safe and fun place for them to be. I thoroughly enjoy watching my students build relationships with each other during the rehearsal process.

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
I think students that are involved in the plays are involved in everything! They are athletes, scholars, work, dance, and are involved in many community activities. Sometimes it's hard to balance their schedules.

How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
I think technology has been the biggest change throughout my career. I also think that the talent pool in the professional world continues to grow, so it's very hard to break through and make it.

Jess LeProtto
Jess LeProtto

What new skill sets should performers have?
I think it's always important to be a triple threat but now with some of the musicals using musicians, I think it's important to learn an instrument as well as sing, act and dance.

The "truth" about theatre:
That students need to know that 99 percent of the time you will hear "no" at an audition and that's okay. They need to know that auditioning is like a job!

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
Always do what you enjoy. Be kind to everyone. Work hard at all you do! Be yourself!

What have your students taught you?
Patience, love, and that as educators we are an enormous part of their development. We DO make an impact!

Proudest moment as a teacher?
Proudest moment as an educator was when a student of mine who had been my stage manager for four years and I was also her guidance counselor wrote in her yearbook that her ambition in life was to be Ms. Shue. She wanted to become a guidance counselor and direct shows at the school she worked in. Definitely proud moment!

What is something everyone can take away from experiencing art in schools/arts education?
Learning to be confident on and off stage. Enjoy the process of meeting new friends and creating art.

Frank Timmerman
Director
Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts at Pebblebrook High School
Mableton, GA
His student success stories include Meg Gillentine, Jody Reynard, Justin Patterson, Sarah Jane Everman Shanks, Autumn Guzzardi, Abbey O'Brien, Tyler Hanes, Billy Tighe, Ryan Breslin, Cody Williams, Cary Tedder, Candace Maxwell, Colt Prattes, KJ Hippensteel, Chauncey Jenkins, Carlos Valdes, Adam Fleming, Will Burton, Nathan Madden, Casey Good, Samuel Stricklen, Jevares Myrick
Favorite show staged with students: Les Miserables

About his passion for teaching theatre:
I love seeing the spark that is ignited in students when they discover their passion for the arts.

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
I think the level of competition is much higher today than it has ever been. The challenge is to remain confident and keep working hard.

How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
When I first began teaching, there were only a few reputable training programs around the country where aspiring young artists could train. Today, high school students have a wide range of outstanding college and conservatory programs to choose from, and the level of training that's required to gain admission to those programs is extremely high.

Billy Tighe, Frank Timmerman, Colt Prattes and Richard Jarrett
Billy Tighe, Frank Timmerman, Colt Prattes and Richard Jarrett

What new skill sets should performers have?
More and more, I'm seeing a need for performers to be more than just triple-threats. In today's world, being able to tumble or play an instrument (or six) is expected. The "truth" about theatre:
Remember to be a good person. Every talented performer will work everywhere once. It's the ones who are pleasant, easy to work with, and ego-free who get hired a second time.

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
Find your passion and dream big. In fact, our nickname for our school, Pebblebrook/CCCEPA, is the "Dream Factory." In my career, I've been fortunate to see lots of students' dreams come true.

What's the worst showbiz advice you've heard?
I often hear people tell talented young performers that if they can do anything other than perform, they should, because a career in the arts is too hard. I think that's a huge mistake. If the arts are your passion, if you want to be on stage, you owe it to yourself to pursue it. Otherwise, you'll go through life wondering "What if...?"

Frank Timmerman and KJ Hippensteel
Frank Timmerman and KJ Hippensteel

What have your students taught you?
My students have taught me the power and importance of life-long relationships through the arts. I'm still very close with students I taught at the beginning of my career. It's the arts that make those strong bonds possible. People connect through the arts in very important and unique ways.

Proudest moment as a teacher?
I've been fortunate to see my former students go on to perform in over 50 shows on Broadway. I try to see them all, and each time it's like my first. I still cry.

What is something everyone can take away from experiencing art in schools/arts education?
Arts education teaches creativity, perseverance, focus, collaboration, dedication, and accountability. Students who study the arts develop confidence – on and off the stage. They also develop an appreciation for each other and the things that make life worth living.

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Ruben Van Kempen
Director of Theatre (retired) Roosevelt High School
Seattle, WA
Student success stories include Tony nominee Chad Kimball (Memphis), Noah Racey (Curtains), Charlie Marcus (A Chorus Line), Daniel Berryman (The Fantasticks), Jennifer West (Chicago), Erica Norgaard (company management), Greg Malins (writer/producer "Friends," "How I Met Your Mother").
Favorite shows staged with students: 42nd Street, And Then They Came For Me.

About his passion for teaching theatre:
I see students with so many "ah ha" learning moments. Special needs students who feel they "belong." Seeing direct results of collaboration, problem solving, leadership building – all through creative acting exercises that makes all students feel good about themselves and supportive of each other without knowing they are specifically having a lesson in collaboration, etc.

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
Competition is getting more fierce to get into colleges/universities/conservatories. A student needs to be more rounded, more developed. In some cases students do not have the financial resources to do the Unified Auditions, or take voice/dance lessons or additional acting coaching.

Chad Kimball
Chad Kimball Photo by Joan Marcus

How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
It has changed through electronic media which students and teachers need to keep up with. Too much technical media coming, which keeps changing the approach to teaching.

What new skill sets should performers have?
Being a triple threat may not cut it anymore. Along with those skill sets, one should have a specialty... i.e. acrobatic, playing music instrument. Also being physically in shape.

The "truth" about theatre:
One has to be reliable, personable, be a life learner, humble willing to be collaborative. One has to be able to deal with rejection, and carry on! It's not just about being in the spotlight.

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
Believe in self! Push self to continue to learn. Never rely on your talent! Be supportive of all around you!

What's the worst showbiz advice you've heard?
"You're so beautiful/good looking. This will get you far!"

What have your students taught you?
Humbleness!

Proudest moment as a teacher?
Seeing the curtain rise with 60-plus students doing triple time steps in the opening number of 42nd Street.

What is something everyone can take away from experiencing art in schools/arts education?
Life skills.

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Lou Volpe
Drama Director (Retired)
Harry S. Truman High School
Levittown, PA
Lou's student success stories include Emmy-winning "Dora The Explorer" creator Robert Schooley, Maria Elena O'Brian, Antonio Addeo and Collin McGee
Favorite shows staged with students: I don't think any theatre teacher really has a "favorite production." You remember the great times you had from every show and you tuck them away for a rainy day. They can always make you feel good.

About his passion for theatre:
Theatre, for many high school students, is a means to an end. When they enter your classroom in September, many are petrified to even speak their names. Theatre is the process by which many of them discover so much about who they are. It's a slow process and you have to be very patient with them. It's a challenge because each student progresses at his/her own pace. But eventually you begin to see them blossom, become more confident, enjoy their triumphs and failures with dignity and by year's end... for so many of them, there is so much personal growth. Only theatre (and the arts) can do this and to see this happen every year is the basis of the love of theatre that teachers of theatre enjoy.

The biggest challenges young performers face today:
Young performers today are, for the most part, highly educated with degrees from some of the best theatre schools in the country. The competition for roles seems to be more intense and to be able to handle the rejection of not being cast is a huge obstacle for young actors. They need to make a huge commitment to their dreams of becoming an actor and to keep trying no matter how often they are disappointed. In this "microwave world" of instant gratification, this is one of the greatest challenges they must overcome. The competition is fierce and is only for those who are intensely committed to their craft.

Lou Volpe
Lou Volpe

How has the industry changed over the course of your teaching career?
As I mentioned previously, young actors are becoming more educated and trained. Rarely, if ever, do you see an actor onstage in New York without reading where they were educated in the Playbill bios. Personally, many high schools are now doing shows that were "taboo" in the early days. I was very lucky to be able to pilot shows like Les Miserables, Rent and Spring Awakening. I'm not sure that would have happened when I first began teaching.

What new skill sets should performers have?
Gone are the days when you could just be a great actor or singer, etc. Now you need to be a triple threat for many musicals. You should have superior skills in at least one area and excellent skills in 2 others. Young men are beginning to realize that if they want a lead in a musical they need to know how to dance. I think of the three skill sets, dance is now becoming as important as singing and acting. For straight plays you need to develop your techinque...it must be strong. You need to train for Shakespeare but you also need to train for Mamet (even though I'm sure Mamet will disagree).

The "truth" about theatre:
If you approach the performing arts honestly and openly, they will permit you to see inside yourself and know who you are as a human being. They are capable of fusing the physical and the spiritual in an artist and nothing else can do that. Performing arts instill self confidence and challenge the artist to search and find truth and beauty in whatever they do whether it's singing a Sondheim masterpiece or dancing a Balanchine pas de deux. Art never compromises truth. It's either art or artifice. I had a huge sign in my classroom that said "Art is craft, not inspiration." Stephen Sondheim said that and truer words about art were never spoken.

What piece of advice do you hope all of your students will carry with them?
There's a huge difference between being an actor and a star. Acting requires commitment to craft and you are never finished learning. It's a lifelong commitment. Some of the great actors (Ian McKellen, Robert Duvall, Maggie Smith, James Earl Jones, Judi Dench) of our time continue to learn and to teach others. There are thousands of supremely talented actors whose names we don't know. If you can accept that, then continue. Also... I urge them to take risks in life and not be afraid to fail. Make mistakes... take pride in them and learn from them. Don't be afraid to be different. All the greats in life were different. Being ordinary is a cardinal sin. Celebrate your uniqueness.

What's the worst showbiz advice you've heard?
I'm appalled at some of these acting factories who promise to place students into shows when they graduate. They "graduate" only to discover that they cannot compete with those who have spent years learning their craft. I compare them to those bogus "modeling agencies" who promise high end modeling jobs to their young clients and of course that never happens. There is a lot of wasted money spent on these so called "schools."

What have your students taught you?
In many ways, they know as much (or even more) than you and you have to remain open and accessible to new their ideas and suggestions. If you do, you'll learn so much and in the process they will keep you young at heart. Be fearless in certain situations...cross the line...push the envelope.

Proudest moment as a teacher?
There are too many to pick just one but last year I was selected by The Ford Theatre in Washington as their Arts Teacher of the Year. In addition to several celebrations at the White House and The Capitol, I was honored to have a short meeting and photo session with President Obama and Mrs. Obama and met and had a great conversation with Vice-President and Mrs. Biden. I received an award at Ford's Theatre in front of Senators, Representatives, actors, etc. and I was introduced to the audience by James Earl Jones, Laura Benanti and Cheyenne Jackson. But the best thing about this experience was that my son Tom was with me and shared in these moments, and I never stopped thinking about my students at Truman High School... they were they reason I was there in the first place and I wished they had been with me. I felt proud of being a teacher and a high school theatre director. I was also the subject of the book "Drama High" written by New York Times writer Michael Sokolove. Mike spent 2+ years with me and my students and the book was met with great success. I love that I have the ability to relieve my career through that book. It keeps my memories of what I loved so much alive.

What is something everyone can take away from experiencing art in schools/arts education?
Arts humanize us. When civilizations fade they are remembered through the art they produced. It is imperative that school districts in the USA fund art programs because our culture and our future as a civilization demand it. Art education keeps many students in school and gives them a chance to express themselves... something they cannot do in other subject areas. It is the arena for self expression and the development of creativity in youth. Imagine a high school without a marching band, an orchestra, a drama club, an art program. How boring that education would be.

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