Community Spotlight: Tom Schulz

By Ginny Butsch posted 09-19-2018 13:21


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 next spotlight is Tom Schulz, the troupe director of Troupe 3674 at Singapore American School in Singapore. Tom is an international member with over 26 years of teaching experience, reflected in his practical advice and on-point recommendations.

Why do you believe theatre is important?

I love theatre because it serves myriad functions in society and our lives, but at heart is about people working together to create magic. No one ever forgets a show they were in. 


"The Secret in the Wings" by Mary Zimmerman


What is the resource you most recommend to others in your profession?

"A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing" by William Ball.  


What is the best advice anyone has ever given to you?

Eugene Ionesco came to Pomona College in Claremont, California when I was doing my undergraduate work there. He said, "Actors and directors like to make the audience laugh because it gives them immediate gratification. The greater power of theatre lies in the hushed silence which comes with confronting ourselves as we really are." While I do love to direct comedies, I've always felt the tragedies and tragic-comedies are more 'fun' to work on for that very reason. 


"Eurydice" by Sarah Ruhl


What is your favorite musical (or play)? What makes it so special?

Three Penny Opera by Bertolt Brecht. I was a follow spot operator for a production of '3 Penny' when I realized I wanted to direct plays.  The Brecht/Weill collaboration was magic. I grew up speaking German, and love the 1931 film and sound track with Lotte Lenya. For my money, the David MacDonald and Jeremy Sams’ translation used for the 1994 Domar Warehouse production comes closest in feel to the original German. Marianne Faithful and Ute Lemper have fantastic covers of 'Pirate Jenny.'


 What was the first play you ever saw?

The first professional production I can remember seeing was Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill in 1975 at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon. It starred a young William Hurt and left me stunned and speechless. It ripped my heart out and I had never experienced anything like that in the theatre before. 

Other milestone productions along the way:  

LSD...just the high points by the Wooster Group (a delectable reworking of The Crucible)

Right Mind George Coates Performance Works (new opera)

True West by Sam Shepard with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich (realism at its best)

Sleep No More - Punchdrunk (immersive)


What inspired you to become a teacher?

I really fell into teaching quite by accident. After college, I worked as a director for an Off-Off New York company for 3 years before moving back to San Francisco. I then served seven years as Artistic Director for 'Elbows Akimbo,' an interdisciplinary ensemble creating shows featuring original music and dance as part of our storytelling. We were making some money, but no one could quit their day job.  I had begun to question the larger purpose of my life in avant garde theatre. After the loss of a dear friend to the AIDS epidemic, I took a year’s leave of absence to travel in South East Asia. A chance encounter led me to Jakarta International School. Stepping on the stage in the 750 seat Fine Arts Theatre, my first question was, "How do I get a job here?" That was 1992. I have now lived and taught internationally for 26 years. I taught at JIS for 17 years before moving to the Singapore American School, where I just started my 9th year. I no longer question the 'larger purpose' of what I am doing. I feel truly blessed to be working with young people creating theatre on a daily basis. The international schools tend to be well-funded and have a strong commitment to the arts. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves to teach and is looking for some adventure as well. 


"The Laramie Project" by Moises Kaufman


Tell us about the moment that made you decide to get involved in theatre.

I was a pre-law student when I started at Pomona College. One semester of government courses helped me realize I did not want to spend the rest of my life with people who love to argue so much. I looked around campus to see who was having the most fun, and it was clearly the theatre tribe. I was very lucky to have understanding parents who supported my decision to switch majors. I directed my first play in 1977 and have been constantly working in theatre in one way or another since then.


What is unique about your program?

I am a 'one person' department and do not have to teach to any external exams or standards. Along with my colleagues in Dance and Music, we have created an 'Advanced Topic Performing Arts' program for the top students in our particular disciplines. They work in a seminar program on interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as independent performance projects in their chosen area. We have worked with university mentors to create a college level course which has a similar accreditation to the AP program.


"The Return to the Forbidden Planet" by Bob Carlton


What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve ever had to manage?

In Jakarta, my IB students created a large-scale 'Bread and Puppet' style piece which included a 25 ft high 'Burning Man' for the finale. It had a framework made out of steel reinforcing rod, which was wrapped in old rice sacks and then soaked in kerosene and set on fire. In one of the performances, the steel cable holding it up snapped, and the Burning Man crashed to the ground, not too far from the High School student rock band who were playing 'All Along the Watchtower.' No one was injured and they completed the show. People in the audience thought we had planned the whole thing.


If you could have a different career, what would you choose?

I might have enjoyed teaching at a college or university, but I'd still choose teaching theatre.


What is your proudest accomplishment?

Raising our daughters, Miranda (16) and Phoebe (14) with my wife, Esti. 


Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of theatre?

I brew my own beer and I love to play poker. I'm also a voracious reader.


What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?

I really don't enjoy performing on stage... at all! I love working with performers and admire their courage, but I'm a terrible actor and hate to memorize lines.


What is your favorite part of the day?

3-6 pm, because that's when we rehearse our after school shows. 


If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

For now I'm good here, but I love the Pacific Northwest.


If you enjoyed Tom’s interview as much as we did, add him as a contact in the Community.


Do you know someone who deserves a moment in the Spotlight? Tell me their name and why at Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.