For this project, I decided to interview two former educators and a few of my friends, all of whom were very involved in the arts in high school. I’m taking this in a more journalistic direction supplemented with some pictures, since that’s what I’m most used to.
I’ve been asking each individual to explain what the arts mean to them and prompting them to share their personal experiences with the arts in our community. Although a few friends have yet to respond, those that I have interviewed have been incredibly helpful in giving me great information. Without further ado, here’s a little teaser…
The old wooden floorboards of the school auditorium’s stage creak beneath my feet, scuffed, riddled with remnants of gaff tape, and splattered by rogue flecks of paint. It was here that I spent so many long hours under the direction of vocal instructors and drama directors, building and striking down sets, trying on costumes, and teaching choreography, from the first read through to the final bow.
On a warm, breezy Sunday, I met with Kevin Bean, one of these former directors, and his wife Mallory, both of whom are strong advocates for the arts in our community. Over lunch at a local Panera, we sit down to discuss where Windber’s arts programs have been and where they’re going.
“My first encounter with the arts was a fun one,” he begins, “I remember reading Ben and Me in elementary school. It was about a mouse that lived in Ben Franklin’s house and told stories about what went on there and all the people he saw.” The assignment based on the reading was to put on a play. Kevin, being an enthusiastic student that spoke a lot, was cast as the mouse. “I had to write my own part and write an introduction for every single character.” Going back through the book and learning about each person gave Kevin his first experience researching characters. “It was my first exposure to theater, this concept of researching a character. I had to be imaginative. I had to think at a higher level and think, ‘what makes sense for this character?’ It gave me a reason to focus.”
This focus has carried on through his education and into his life today. When asked how the arts have shaped the way he raises his family and teaches, Kevin throws his head back and chuckles. “Oh my God,” he pauses. “So much. So much. From a theater perspective, you have to learn to observe and learn to read. And by that, I mean you need to learn to read a person. To read a person, you need some psychology. You take the information, throw in a variable, and think, ‘what would that character do?’ You start understanding human behavior.” Kevin uses these approaches in the community college classes he teaches, looking at students and where they come from at a more personal level to figure out what to do as a teacher to address them. “I’d rather go to a student’s level, find out what excites them, and engage them in that,” he says. “Then, they’re more apt to use the information in everyday life.”
In terms of his family, he’s used the same theater training to adapt to each of his three children’s personalities. “My son likes structure. I can’t use “because I said so” on him. A lot of theater is using your poker skills, like, ‘how do I adapt to this situation fast?’” Here, he launches into a story about a theater production during which a cast member fell and busted his chin open. The other actors quickly adapted and, making up lines that fit within the show’s context, literally bandaged their fellow actor up and carried on with the show. “Life changes. You can panic and freeze up, or you can say you have an idea and take the lead.”
From here, we began to talk about his involvement in high school theater.
“I started at Windber in 2002,” he says. “I coached forensics, then theater, then retired when Aspen took over.” Aspen had been my first director when I began acting in school shows. Theater was not a large program at all when Kevin started. “We started with no money, no budget. You know that storage room upstairs?” he gestures upward with his fork, and I recall the large room on the third floor of our high school that was now packed with costumes, set pieces, and props. “I bought everything and organized it. I put up the clothing racks. I put a sense of business to show business.” In the years since, more costumes have been donated or handmade, and willing parents have committed hours to making set pieces out of wood and scrap cardboard. Now, the drama club has the funding to rent higher-quality costumes from costuming companies.