Community Spotlight: Suzanne Katz

By Ginny Butsch posted 04-16-2019 11:24

  

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 Suzanne Katz, an elementary drama educator at Two Rivers PCS and a research associate at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Suzanne previously served at the college level as Associate Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Educational Studies at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin and founded Junior Thespian Troupe 88200 at Ernest Becker Middle School in Las Vegas, Nevada. With experiencing working with students of all ages, it’s no wonder why Suzanne is such an integral member of the Theatre Education Community.           

        

Why do you believe theatre is important? 

Theatre allows our students to become the best versions of themselves while learning different ways of interacting with the wider world. It is also a key link in making connections to all other subject areas.

 

What is your greatest challenge?

I spent almost a decade teaching and directing in middle school theatre and then taught for over a decade at the college level in a teacher education department (while still directing for a local middle school and a summer educational theatre program). I am in a career renaissance of sorts and am now teaching elementary drama (PS-5). Finding a language to discuss creative process with elementary students, especially the early childhood set, has been a wonderful challenge that I look forward to everyday.

 

Do you have any tips for new theatre teachers?

Teaching is an optimistic act. We cannot get up in front of young people every day and not feel that there is something vital we are sharing with them in order to bring our world forward.

 

What is unique about your program? 

Our school uses Expeditionary Learning as the core of our curriculum. As one part of the drama program, each class produces a showcase aligned with their interdisciplinary expedition. For instance, when the kindergarten studies the physics of marble runs, part of demonstrating their learning includes a performance where the kids explain their newly gained content knowledge theatrically (in this case, through a staged choral reading in Seuss-ian rhyme). While we sometimes carry over performances from year to year, often I write these scripts with and for the kids.

 

Everyone has at least one good theatre story. Tell us yours!

Just one?  Impossible. I will give a brief list sans detail…

  • Earthquake during one-act performances.

  • Our Louisa had an emergency appendectomy two weeks before The Sound of Music Her mom told me that as she was wheeled to the ER she told the doctor he could not do the surgery unless he could guarantee she could be onstage for performances. (She made it and was wonderful.)

  • We flew characters for Wizard of Oz and had to load them on one side of the stage. The Wicked Witch had a flying entrance on the opposite side, so she was pulled across to set up the entry. Her legs, if she did not bend her knees, extended below the border.  One night she forgot. Very observant audience members were treated to her toes peeking out just below the border all the way across the proscenium.

  • As You Like It with middle schoolers. The performance seemed tired one evening. I gave the kids a rose and said they had to keep it moving between characters throughout the entire next scene. They did it (though they thought I was insane). It was hysterical, and the rest of the show came to life.

  • I took a group of Thespians to one of the regional Junior Festivals. This involved airplanes... in February… of 2002… when airports were still figuring out security protocols. Despite my working with the airport in advance to ensure a seamless process, Murphy’s Law took over and a comedy of errors ensued.

  • Same festival (we did eventually get there)… The girls played a practical joke on the boys by creeping outside their room at night (with chaperone supervision), and taping foil over the front entrance to their hotel room door… with the boys inside. When the boys opened the door in the morning, they were faced with a message taped on the foil that trapped them in their room: “Curses! Foiled again!”  (They had just done some melodramas in class…) 

 

Name something on your bucket list.  

I have been in educational theatre for over 25 years and have never seen a show on Broadway. Chicago Theater, yes. The Guthrie, yes. Stratford, Oregon Shakespeare, Utah Shakespeare, Kennedy Center, repertory theatres all over the country… yes.  But no Broadway… It may be time…

 

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

I paid for college through an ROTC scholarship- which the US Army went for- even though they knew I was planning on majoring in the performing arts.

 

If you enjoyed Suzanne’s interview as much as we 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 gbutsch@schooltheatre.org. Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.

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