Cast and Crew of Footloose at Treasure Coast High School, January 2017
One of the main goals for our Theatre Education Community is to help theatre students and professionals from all over connect and identify with each other in order to build resources and support the theatre education field. We shine a spotlight on a different member every other week by conducting a simple interview.
Our latest Spotlight Member is Emily Olson, the theatre teacher and director at Treasure Coast High School in Port St. Lucie, Florida, home to Thespian Troupe 7129. Emily is a newer teacher who, like many, began by asking questions and benefitted from the wealth of knowledge our Community offers. As she has gained more experience, she’s started to provide more answers and advice, earning her bronze “Most Valuable Member” ribbon.
Ginny: What is your greatest challenge currently?
Emily: I’m still a pretty new teacher and director (finishing my third year), so finding a work/life balance is still a bit of a struggle. I’ve realized that when the one thing that has always been your hobby suddenly becomes your job, it’s important to find some other hobbies and outlets. I’m still working on that.
Ginny: What was the first play you ever saw?
Emily: It wasn’t my first play, but the very first play I ever saw on Broadway was Hairspray (with the original cast!), when I traveled to NYC with my Thespian troupe as a high school senior. We landed and went straight to the theatre from the airport. That show will always hold a special place in my heart. It was magical! I definitely want to direct it someday.
Ginny: What is your “dream” show? The one that you would love to direct at your school if there weren’t any obstacles?
Emily: There are too many to pick just one! I have a lot of musicals that I would love to direct that involve complicated technical elements and special effects, so those will have to wait for now. One straight show that I’m itching to do is The Importance of Being Earnest. I know it will be a challenging one to pull off at the high school level, but I hope to do it someday when I have the right group of kids. I first read it when I was in 8th or 9th grade and I fell in love with it. It’s been one of my favorites ever since and I think it’s hysterical (I also hope to play the role of Lady Bracknell in a production myself someday when I’m old enough! It’s on my theatre bucket list.). I’m also dying to do Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. It’s one of my favorite shows I’ve ever been in and I would love to direct it someday.
Ginny: What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve ever had to manage?
Emily: I’m still very green, so there are a lot of elements that are challenging, but the most difficult for me right now are the technical elements, especially set, lights, and sound. I took a few basic tech courses in college, but my focus was on acting and high school teaching was not on my radar. I do firmly believe that all actors should have a tech “weapon of choice” and mine was costuming. I can handle that aspect fairly well, but the set, lights, and sound nearly kill me every time. But, I’m learning. I’m proud of what my kids and I have been able to accomplish so far with our limited resources and training, but someday I would really love to have a technical director of my own to work with. That would be life changing!
Ginny: Tell us about the moment that made you decide to get involved in theatre.
Emily: It’s a long story, but it’s definitely a defining moment for me so I think it’s worth sharing. Here’s a condensed version: My family moved around a lot when I was growing up. It was pretty hard on me and I struggled with anxiety and depression. I started having terrible panic attacks in 10th grade and I ended up on the home-bound schooling program. I had been enrolled in an Intro to Theatre class and I really didn’t want to have to give it up, but as we all know, doing theatre at home by myself proved rather difficult. After about nine weeks, I gathered up the courage and started attending that one class. I still didn’t participate a lot, but by attending the class, I slowly gained confidence. A few weeks later, I added another class, and a few weeks later, another, until by the last week of the school year, I was attending all of my classes.
I had managed to get through the year in theatre class without having to get up in front of the class, but for the theatre final exam, we were required to perform a two-person scene and I had to do it or my teacher wouldn’t be able to give me a grade. (Shout out to my amazing theatre teacher, Mrs. Thiel, who probably wouldn’t really have failed me, but knew it was time to give me that little push!) My partner and I chose a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire and practiced very hard. The big day came on the last day of school and we were the very last pair to go.
I’m sure it wasn’t the most brilliant performance ever, but it felt amazing. Something inside me came alive and I felt completely immersed in the character and the story. The world around me disappeared and I didn’t feel scared and awkward anymore. When it was all over, the class was cheering wildly. It’s cheesy, but it was like a scene from a movie. In that moment, everything clicked for me and I realized I didn’t have to let my problems define me or dictate what I could and could not do. The rest, as they say, is history.
That summer, I auditioned for and was cast in my first full-length play at a community theatre, and the next school year, I took a full schedule of classes and acted in four more plays, both at school and in community theatre. I began to make friends and become more involved in other activities as well. During my senior year, I acted in more plays, discovered a love for costuming, and served as the President for the Thespian Troupe. So, I can honestly say high school theatre saved my life, or at least helped save my life. Since that day, I knew that I wanted to be involved in theatre for the rest of my life.
Ginny: Everyone has at least one good theatre story. Tell us yours!
Emily: I haven’t had a really bad directing story yet (knock on wood!), but I was on stage in a production of Into the Woods and the stage caught on fire near the end of Act I. Thankfully, the fire was very small and was quickly put out by a stage manager, but it was still pretty crazy. It was a very surreal couple of minutes. But we stayed calm and in character and carried on with the show once it was out.
Ginny: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Emily: I’ve always had a fantasy to live in a little cottage in the English countryside, and I hope someday I will have the chance to live out that fantasy, even if it’s only for a year or two.
Ginny: What toy do you most remember from your childhood?
Emily: I loved Barbie Dolls! For me, it wasn’t about the clothes or the shoes; it was all about the drama! I would “direct” and act out elaborate stories with my dolls. Sometimes these epic productions would span several days’ worth of playtime. I guess I caught the directing bug early.
Emily’s eagerness to learn and grow professionally alongside her students is inspiring. Learn more about Emily’s program on their website, www.tchstitantheatre.weebly.com. If you enjoyed Emily’s interview as much as I did, add her as a contact in the Community.
Do you know someone who deserves a moment in the Spotlight? Tell me their name and why at email@example.com. Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.