At the American Shakespeare Center, we love our teachers! Check out some of the teachers who made a huge difference in our lives here at ASC.
David Anthony Lewis (Actor): In the 8th grade, in Twin Falks, Idaho, I had the good fortune to be placed in the English class taught by Mrs. Janice Mottern-High. The room was lined with poster and swag from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. When we read Taming of the Shrew in class, we just went around the room, and the next student read the next line. I remember counting ahead to see which lines I’d get to read, and being excited that I was consistently getting the big chunks, because I’d always liked reading. Then after class that first day, on the way out of the room, she said, “David, you’re really good at that!” By the end of my 8th grade year, I knew what I wanted to be – a classically trained Shakespearean actor. To swing swords and kiss girls like the guys on the posters! Every life decision I made from then on would be to achieve that goal.
Years later, working my first contract at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I made sure to contact Mrs. High and tell her the tickets for her yearly trip to Ashland were all taken care of. It brought me such joy to take her on backstage tours and attend the pre-show classes with her. Then years after that, I was hired to play Orlando for the Sun Valley Shakespeare company, in the resort town just 45 minutes away. This time, I borrowed a car and just strolled into her English class, picked her up and twirled her all around, lavishing her with praise and making jokes for the students. I owe all I am to a short list of amazing women, and Janice Mottern-High is most certainly among them. I know at some point while I was in school she was honored with a National English Teacher award, and got to go to Stratford-Upon-Avon and see the RSC do their thing. She certainly had my vote.
Brandon Carter (Actor): So, I had three theatre mommas in high school. They all taught English on different levels and also coached the theatre and forensics teams. I just wasn’t in to the academic parts of school, the subjects bored me. After being suspended twice and back at public school, I was about to flunk out of my senior year. Up to this point I had done theatre, was All-State in VHSL Theatre and Forensics and could no longer compete.
One of my theatre mommas, Karin Rohmann sat me down during English class and said “We have Julius Caesar coming up, and I want you to read Caesar.” I didn’t know what those words meant but I knew they had power, I had to know what they meant. The power that the text had, ignited something in me and changed my life, I imagined what that could do for others; It really cemented me in wanting to be an actor. I realized that I had to get my stuff together and got myself on the right track.
Fast forward to this Summer Season and I’m playing Cassius in Julius Caesar. That play that saved my life. Full circle.
Carolyn Ruedy (Box Office): Ms. Becker, my second grade teacher, was all about building up our empathy by exposing us to as many different cultural events as possible, and since we were an international school, those ran the gamut from opera to women’s professional basketball games to Japanese Girls and Boys Days. She was also the first teacher to take my writing seriously, which was a BIG deal.
Ms. Winkler, my fifth grade teacher, was one of the toughest teachers I ever had. She demanded precision, organization, and high-quality deliverables—in the fifth grade! But earning a good grade from her meant a lot. Also, she took us to the Kennedy Center and the Folger Library before launching us into our own productions of Midsummer and The Tempest.
Ms. Bedinger, my high school drama teacher, is a legend in her own right. She was demanding but supportive, and had a warm spot for misfits and introverts, for whom she operated a sort of shelter program out of one corner of her office, which happened to be an unused restroom. Anyone who felt overwhelmed or drained during the days was welcome to sit in her office and work on homework of read, and she would supply an excuse note. Ms. Bedinger helped me figure out that acting might not be a good fit for me (stagefright), but writing was. She helped get me into a summer writing program at UVA —where I caught the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express Season of Love.
Penultimate entry has to be Cpt. Dan Grinstead, LISW, my advanced practicum supervisor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Dan taught me pretty much everything I know re: application of clinical social work, as well how to plan a day for max efficiency (always eat a donut after rounds while you figure out a strategy), how to keep up with multiple responsibilities (wear Chuck Taylors so you can) and how to sort out your ethics and priorities to stay true to yourself (Dan joined the National Guard and deployed to Afghanistan as a social worker after watching PTSD rates jump in returning vets). Dan remains a good friend to this day and was recently named Iowa Social Worker of the Year.
Ultimate entry? Obviously my parents. Both PhDs, both deeply committed to arts education, both incredibly brave, smart, devoted, ethical, kind people.
Sarah Enloe (Director of Education): Ninth grade wasn’t a very good year for me. I obsessed over illness and tried everything I could to stay home rather than go to school. Though I was in honors classes, I didn’t always do the work and seemed to be trying my best to convince my teachers that I wasn’t going to improve. But then, I got into the class of Billie Jean Casey for English Lit my sophomore year. Mrs. Casey was one of those teachers who believes that English class is about the whole human, not just about reading the masters (though it was!), but also about finding out how we related to them. I remember doing logic puzzles to see how prone to fallacy we could be as part of studying Julius Caesar and I remember Mrs Casey recognizing that my heart was all in when it came to playing the roles. As part of the culminating project for Julius Caesar, I think she may have added an option–acting–to keep me engaged. Sure, I could have written something, or done some research and given a presentation like ALL of my other classmates, save one. But, I chose to play the Portia and Brutus scene with my friend from Kindergarten: Philip Merritt. Naturally, we went all out with costumes (of course, togas are not really difficult to create–but it was challenging to wrap them in the school bathroom, I assure you) and Mrs Casey snapped our photo, which made it into the school yearbook. The next play we read, Our Town, she gave me the part of Emily and simultaneously pushed me to get involved with our Drama Club–every year she put in a word with the faculty sponsor that we should do it…she could suggest the perfect Emily. My senior year, we did, and my proudest moment was when Mrs Casey gave me a hug after the show–I could not have done it without her. I know she touched thousands of lives just like mine over the years, I can’t imagine what this world would be like without her and teachers like her in it. Those teachers who recognize the students they have, and help them turn into the adults they can be.
Vicky Vail (Box Office): The very first play I ever saw was a production of Midsummer at the High School my mother taught at. They performed the production in the garden courtyard in the middle of the day (so I fell in love with universal lighting at a young age and didn’t even realize it!). I was five years old and I sat with my mom in the very front row. All of the mechanicals were played by the high school English teachers, and Bottom was played by Mr. Shipley. During every single monologue he spoke directly to me, little five year old me in the front row. I LOVED it. I remember being so engaged and I definitely loved all of the attention, even if he did scold me from time to time. I remember going home and begging to read the play. From that moment on I knew Shakespeare would always be my passion.
Over a decade later Mr. Shipley became my 11th and 12th grade English teacher and he taught me how to appreciate how language sounds. He would recite parts of Beowulf or Shakespeare and Keats during class so that we could hear how poetic the English language can be (and how poetry evolved through time). He always gave us the opportunity to put dramatic literature up on its feet. He challenged us as researchers and critical thinkers. It was because of Mr. Shipley’s passion for the English language, and his ability to share that passion both on stage and in the classroom, that I fell in love with language, especially with Shakespeare’s language.
I love sharing this story about Mr. Shipley not only because of his influence in my life, but also because I saw a Shakespeare play when I was five. I will always advocate for early exposure because that production and that experience influenced the whole trajectory of my life.
Jacquelynne McClelland (Group and Education Sales Manager): The teacher who has left a lasting impression on my life and trajectory is Mrs. Brown, also known as my mother. While serving in a leadership role and acting in a community theater group, my mother managed to learn her lines and simultaneously establish a foundation for reading in my life. As she would work to memorize her part, I would recite lines from other characters and cues from the script. This time spent developing my reading skills and bonding with the characters, prior to seeing them come to life on stage, gave me an appreciation for not only the fine arts but also the people who bring it to life. And here I am, passionately working at the American Shakespeare Center to share the beauty of live theatre and our appreciation for words with students across the state of VA and beyond.
Fast forward 25 years and you can now find Mrs. Brown at Hickory Ridge Elementary School (OH) where she is tutoring students who struggle with reading comprehension in grades K-5. Her ability to harness various voices and inflections, as well as her desire to see students flourish, is what sets her apart and brings the text to life. Whether it’s her own children and grandchildren or the hundreds of students she has taught, Mrs. Brown excels at planting a desire for learning in their hearts and a love for the arts in their souls.
Liz Bernardo-Stewart (Education and Group Sales Associate): Mrs. Smith really fueled my love for Shakespeare and, without her, I’m not sure if I would’ve gotten into the field! In AP English Lit, Mrs. Smith had us read King Lear and Othello out loud as a class and found ways to engage us all in the plays: through video performances, encouraging us to go to local Shakespeare performances for extra credit, using the occasional meme, and for really putting a focus on the interesting characters in these plays. (I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I was already interested in theatre and got to read as Cordelia and Desdemona too!) Because of her passion for poetry and amazing teaching in general, I grew to love these plays and continue to read them on my own. I know that Mrs. Smith continues to change lives teaching at Lake Norman Charter High School (with a passion for #TeachLivingPoets) and I hope that her students find what they love through her amazing work too!