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 David Kramer, a “retired” theatre educator who ran Thespian Troupe 128 at Miller Place High School in Miller Place, New York for 25 years and ran theatre programs for various grade levels for 39 years. Our Community members have been benefiting from David’s sound recommendations and trusted advice for several years now and we’re grateful that devoted educators like him continue to play a role in furthering the field for generations to come.
Why do you believe theatre is important?
The underlying “hum” in all I do as an educator is the title of a paper I wrote during my Master’s program… Music Education as Aesthetic Education. Every art form is reflective of the structure of the human condition expressing the ebb and flow at variable intensities that we recognize as our inner being (emotional or physiological in nature). Each art form expresses this via its particular elements. The development of aesthetic perception increases aesthetic sensitivity. Through theatre, we are immersed into human scenarios that demand our exploration and contemplation. Once determinations are made, we then must successfully express these “realities.” (I use quotation marks as I define acting as “being real in imaginary circumstances.”) The constant involvement of “perceiving” develops our “sensitivities.” I have found teenagers involved in theatre to be more aware of the ramification of the concept that every aspect of life affects every other aspect of life as that concept is basic to every moment within every theatrical performance. With this in mind, many of my musical and play choices have been made to challenge my theatre company and audience members to confront difficult stories that, hopefully, begin dialogues with the issues involved. Theatre for Social Change is a phrase used by many… it’s the “hum” to my theatre work. As important as the aforementioned thesis is, equally important is the idea that theatre is the only school experience that integrates every curricula discipline taught with an ultimate goal for both theatre company members and their audiences that the experience elevates within each of us characteristics that make us more human. The arts do indeed separate us and elevate us beyond all other members of the animal kingdom.
What is your favorite musical (or play)? What makes it so special?
My traditional answer to the “favorite” question is “The one on which I’m presently working.” But I’m going to cheat by sharing multiple answers. MUSICALS-Fiddler, Rent, Les Mis., Ragtime, The Who’s TOMMY. PLAYS-The Laramie Project, And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, 26 Pebbles (about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting)
26 Pebbles cast with playwright, Eric Ulloa
What was the first role you ever played?
I played the letter “N” in a United Nations play when I was in 2nd grade. (The lower case one.) My first, and only role on stage was Perchik in Fiddler on the Roof. I was 12 years old, at sleepaway camp, and on the morning of the performance, the actor playing Perchik quit. Since I could carry a tune, I was asked to perform, and then spent the entire day learning my lines, blocking, and songs. After about 8 hours of work, I could only recall the melody lines of my songs. So, pages from the script were strategically taped to tables, the well, walls, and even peoples’ backs. My blocking was solely dependent on the placements of the script pages.
What is unique about your program?
The musical theatre program where I taught for 39 years before retiring in 2014 was the largest after-school activity, including any sports team, in the school district and it was held in the highest esteem by the district and the community. Number of students involved varied from 85-125.
What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve ever had to manage?
Lighting for the opening 9-minute prologue of Ragtime. Ragtime is a story of hope for an America without discrimination and prejudice. Three groups of people are featured. WASPs, Jewish Immigrants, and African Americans. My school district was 98% white and I had only 2 African American actors in the cast. My solution was to color code each group through costuming and lighting. WASPs (white), Immigrants (blue), and African Americans (red). I spent a tremendous amount of time programming the movement of the intelligent lights so that they illuminated each group’s entrance in the Prologue, their all their movements throughout the number. (Spotlights were being used for other purposes at this point.) Considering that each of the 3 groups remained segregated, yet were constantly moving, determining exact location and programming the speed of light movement was most difficult.
Ragtime, Miller Place High School
What would you consider your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
Not knowing how to retire. I retired in 2014 and immediately was hired by my home school district to direct/produce plays and musicals and have done so for the past 5 years. I also run a summer theatre program entering its 20th year. What did I learn? One of my life’s obligations as a “giver” is to stay involved with theatre productions involving teenagers and children.
Everyone has at least one good theatre story. Tell us yours!
While performing RENT, in the 2nd act during Angel’s death scene, a lighting computer motherboard burned out. Suddenly, every stage light simultaneously started blinking ON and OFF in a slow, consistent rhythm. When they went off, the auditorium went completely black. I called up to my 3 spotlight operators to widen their lights and to keep them on and stationary, overlapping SR, CS, and SL for the rest of the show. Basically, the playing areas of the stage remained in light and just inside the frame of the proscenium arch was the constant, pulsating light. The show ended with the standing ovation that the actors deserved. As the auditorium was emptying an audience member came up to me and shook my hand vigorously commenting about the brilliant directorial decision I had made in the production. I was confused by his comment but simply thanked him, knowing full well that we just dodged a bullet on the fly. (An aside: I always tell my performers to simply say “Thank you” after a show, and if there were ever any glitches, to never reveal the mistakes and mishaps.) The gentleman went on to tell me that the pulsating “heartbeat” of Angel after he died (the pulsating lights) that represented the essence of Angel permeating the rest of the lives of the characters was brilliant.
Rent, Miller Place High School
If you could have a different career, what would you choose?
A “struggling” composer. My training as a teenager was as a pianist and composer with Joan Tower. In the 1960s, Tower was squeaking by financially but I so much wanted to emulate her dedication to her life’s passion. In a sense, my teaching career (music and theatre) and the past 5 years of directing theatre productions reflected the same level of passion. They all follow a process of “remixing” particular elements to present lessons, plays/musicals, which is the same process as composing music.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Besides having my Javert help close the first run of Les Misérables on Broadway when an ensemble of 45 high school actors performed for the “by invitation only” audience after the final performance and besides having a large number of former students making careers in the professional theatre (both acting and production aspects), my proudest moments are hearing from students how the “life lessons” I’ve shared with them during rehearsal periods have been meaningful to them well beyond their high school years.
What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?
I have never taken a theatre course in my life and my only acting performance was when I was 12 years old, on one-days’ notice… unless you want to count the 39 years I taught music grades K through 12 as acting experience.
What toy do you most remember from your childhood?
A functioning toy piano that even had a small bench. I wrote my 1st composition on it, by number… a Valentine’s Day song for my mother.
If you enjoyed David’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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.