For World Teachers’ Day, we’re celebrating all the wonderful educators who have inspired young artists to make theatre happen. We asked some Concord Theatricals authors two questions: Who was your most inspiring teacher? What would you like to say to that teacher today? Here’s a sampling of their responses.
My most inspiring teacher was a Jesuit priest named Father James Gannon. He said discovering your “calling” was essential. How you get there will be revealed. I remember his wisdom with a lifetime of “thank you’s.”
My most inspiring teacher is Tony Greco, an acting teacher who taught me how to be more truthful onstage (and off). It’s a constant quest, I flop on my face all the time, but to Tony, I always want to say thank you for the push. Honesty can be terrifying and messy, but I never met someone so excited by the possibility of the truth. His lessons are with me always.
My favourite teacher in secondary school was Miss Bannister, my English teacher. We would do play readings as a class, which naturally I loved, and then as a young wannabe playwright at 14 she let me take over the entire library to stage my own adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Boy, although I’ve got no idea what it was like – sadly no script survives!
Richard Trousdell, University of Massachusetts. Thank you for being truthful about your life and your career, sharing the successes and the failures with me.
“Thank you for being truthful about your life and your career, sharing the successes and the failures with me.” — Constance Congdon
My most inspiring teacher was Mrs Pavi, who taught me English at middle school. Luckily I can speak to her today – we are friends on Facebook. She is the person who made me feel as if I had an insight into literature and something to contribute. She introduced me to several memorable books and short stories and gave me a real love for them.
There was once a teacher who took whole classes away on art holidays. He would inveigle his way in with the mayors of small Yorkshire towns to let 40 kids from some North West school sleep on the floor of the town hall on crash mats, in the days when you could do that. He would wake them up at 6, thrust paper and paint in their hands and get them doing watercolours down by the River Wharfe. He would make them write poems, collect rubbish to make into friezes, eat fish and chips so that he got to eat fish and chips, and compete in ridiculous sports that he had made up on the spot using whatever debris was to hand. He would get the coach driver to hide under a sheet and loom out from behind a grave in the churchyard where everyone was doing brass rubbings. What would I say to him? Thank god generations of Runcorn kids got to experience at school what I got to experience every day at home with this teacher as a dad.
Paula Jay was the toughest teacher I ever had, but she’s also the reason I am now a professional writer. I used to joke that her edits in red pen on my essays made some of them look like they were bleeding to death, but she would tell my parents she was tough on me because she felt I wasn’t working up to my full potential and she knew it. Apparently she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself all those years ago. Thanks to her, I now see editorial notes on my articles or plays, as just part of the challenges and joy of the creative journey because Mrs. Jay prepared me so well.
I am doubly indebted to the sisters who taught me at St. Mary’s School. First, for an amazing education. And second, for inspiring me to create the Nunsense series. The personalities of my characters are based on nuns who taught me. Sister Rose Francis was the one who encouraged me to pursue a musical career. She is mentioned in all seven Nunsense versions.
“She made me feel like my very uncool love of musicals wasn’t just a silly hobby or something I needed to be ashamed of.” — Joe Iconis
Mr. Hackett always referred to Shakespeare as ‘Bill’. Literature, for him, was a living and breathing experience rather than dead words. Thanks to his quiet genius, I found worlds opening up between the lines.
I’ve had many inspiring teachers, but I was particularly inspired by my fifth grade teacher, Ivy Harrington. She made me feel like my very uncool love of musicals wasn’t just a silly hobby or something I needed to be ashamed of. She was tolerant and supportive of my particular ability to make any school project about theater, and she had the most distinctive handwriting I’ve ever seen, even to this day.
One of my most inspiring teachers was Ruth Davis, who ran a kid’s theater program in my hometown of Ithaca, NY. If I could talk to her today, I would thank her for igniting my love of theater and storytelling through the arts. I wouldn’t have the life I do now if not for her.
Caryl Phillips. He told us to call him “Caz.” The summer before my senior year, I had just written my first play, and I left it in his mailbox with a note. I had gotten into his elite fiction-writing workshop, but I knew he also wrote plays. After our first class, he asked me to come to his office hours. He glared at me. “What the hell are you doing in my fiction workshop? You’re a playwright. You can make a living doing this.” If I could tell him something now, I would say — this is all your fault.
“He inspired all of us to work hard and do our best.” — Ken Ludwig
My most inspiring teacher at York Suburban High School in York Pennsylvania was Arlington Kahley. He led all the music programs, and I was a trombone player in his band, both orchestra and marching band. He inspired all of us to work hard and do our best, and I have always held him up as a lifelong inspiration and mentor.
I’ve had so many great teachers, but my high school guitar teacher leaps to mind: Justin Perdue. He taught me to play the songs I most wanted to learn, took geeky pleasure in explaining theory, inspired me with his own graceful finger-style feel. I’d say to him… thank you for opening the world to me! For opening the door to my life in music.
Mr. Torres—or as my classmates and I referred to him, Mr. T—was a brilliant man who taught me Geometry, Calculus, Calculus II, and Physics. His ability to approach a problem from multiple angles taught me that there is more than one way to arrive at a solution.
“Thank you for opening the world to me! For opening the door to my life in music.” — Anaïs Mitchell
Way back in 1983 I had the great fortune to take a short story writing class with Mr. James Baldwin. He suggested that I “try my hand at playwrighting.” Almost 40 years later I’m still doing as he suggested — still trying my hand at playwriting.
A high school English teacher plucked a one-act play I had written as a classroom assignment and included it in that year’s Literary Yearbook. When I saw my words laid out across that publication’s pages – looking so professional and final – I felt like I had stepped onto a larger stage, as if I just might have a future as a writer.
My most inspiring teacher was the late Gary Bird from the University of Michigan. I wish he was still here with us so I could tell him how his way of breaking down a text and physicalizing characters transformed the way I think about interpreting songs. He taught me to be curious and brave.
“He taught me to be curious and brave.” — Rob Rokicki
When I reflect on all the things Paula Vogel taught me, among them, bravery, stick-to-it-ive-ness, how to write a play in 48 hours, how to write stage directions that are both impossible to stage and possible to stage: the greatest of these is love. Love for the art form, love for fellow writers, and love for the world.
In ninth grade, Mrs. Pleas read a paper I’d written for her English class. She took me aside and told me I was one of the most talented writers she’s come across. I think my career started that day. She validated me. She instilled a new level of confidence in me. I wouldn’t be a playwright today if not for that conversation. Thank you, Mrs. Pleas.
“When I reflect on all the things Paula Vogel taught me…the greatest of these is love. Love for the art form, love for fellow writers, and love for the world.” — Sarah Ruhl
All my love to Madelin Marchant, my drama teacher at South Miami Middle School, who nurtured and cultivated my fledgling passion for theatre and inspired me to chase my dreams. Thank you, Ms. Marchant. We did it!
Oddly enough, the teacher that helped me most with my writing career wasn’t associated with the arts – he was actually my PE teacher. Mr. Hughes taught me about determination, competitive spirit, will power, self-belief, about never giving up, and always striving to give a personal best. Without his inspiration, I’m sure that many of my writing projects would have been abandoned, half-finished. In short, he gave me the mental stamina to succeed.
My most inspiring teacher was Kate Lindsay, theatre teacher extraordinaire at Salina South High School in Salina, Kansas. Because of her I started thinking of myself as an artist and discovered the joy that comes from collaborating. She is an egoless educator whose vision, positive attitude, and heart are all things that I have taken with me in my artistic endeavors. She is a mentor, an inspiration, and most importantly, a friend.
“Thank you for continuing to be a mentor, inspiration and friend.” — Nathan Tysen
I was led to the realization that I am a writer by my tenth grade teacher Mr. Bowkett, who repeatedly urged me to apply myself more diligently to the task of expressing myself through my fingertips. I learned writing doesn’t come easily to any writer and the pursuit of the perfect phrase is a game of solitaire constantly played within all writers’ minds. I thank Mr. Bowkett for recognizing something in me for which I wasn’t yet yearning to reach.
My most inspiring teacher was a speech professor in college named Prof. Greg Goodale. Prof. Goodale, wherever you are, thank you for teaching me to believe in the power of my voice. I hope that by doing so my voice can transform lives, as you have done mine.
“Prof. Goodale, wherever you are, thank you for teaching me to believe in the power of my voice.” — Loy A. Webb