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 Susan Nieten, the theatre teacher and troupe director at Noblesville High School in Noblesville, Indiana, home to Troupe 8118. One of the things we always love to hear about is when a Thespian Alum turns into a theatre teacher, and Susan is one of these treasures-she hails from Troupe 3088 at Highland High School in Anderson, Indiana.
Why do you believe theatre is important?
Theatre is important for so many reasons. In general, theatre allows artists to collaborate and share a common message with the audience. It gives a voice to those artists and starts or continues much needed discussions about life and its many wonders and/or challenges. In high school, it gives students the power of voice… sometimes for the first time, but maybe more importantly, it provides a place where individuals can come together and feel like they belong to something larger than themselves. It provides a sense of belonging and family, where all are needed and appreciated.
The Crucible, Noblesville High School, 2019
What is your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge is probably finding and choosing the right plays for either our Thespian Competition Show or the Spring Play. Because of my extra-curricular theatre activities during the school year, I find it nearly impossible to read plays for future productions during most of the school year. Summer is my reading time, which I really enjoy, but I feel so pressured by time then as well. There are only so many summer days, yet so many shows I want to read (and of course, other activities not related to school that I want to do!). Then, making the choice very rarely comes easily for me.
The Laramie Project, Noblesville High School, 2018
What is the resource you most recommend to others in your profession?
EdTA’s Open Forum and other theatre teachers are my two most recommended resources. Whether you’re posting a question or just reading other questions and responses, EdTA’s online forum provides a wealth of knowledge, experience, and suggestions that are from colleagues who know and understand what I do and why I do it. Through our state Thespian chapter and other events, I have made connections with other theatre teachers that I also reach out to with questions and needs. These people are vital since I am the only one in my building teaching the classes I teach and directing the shows I direct.
Do you have any tips for new theatre teachers?
- Classroom management is a huge part of any successful classroom, especially a theatre class. Take time to set and discuss these expectations with your students at the beginning of every year (even if you’ve had them in class before).
- Set high expectations for your students and provide the resources and experiences they need to be successful. They are capable of so much and will often surpass your expectations.
- Make sure you have an active Thespian Troupe. Adding a Thespian Troupe to my program was the best decision I have made in my 20 years. My numbers and involvement grew so much after chartering a troupe at my school, and the opportunities and experiences that having an active troupe allows me to provide my students are now invaluable to our program.
Noblesville Thespians at the Indiana Thespians Conference, 2019
What was the first role you ever played?
As a young child I played Lucy in Charlie Brown’s Christmas at my church. In high school, my first role was Madame Thenardier in Tim Kelly’s play version of Les Miserables.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
Ever since I was a little girl, I loved school, and I loved playing school. I’d come home from school and go to my “classroom” at home and teach my “students” all that I was learning. Being a teacher is all I really remember wanting to be when I grew up. In high school, I thought I wanted to be a band teacher until I took a theatre class my senior year with Mr. Ron Clark; he inspired me to become a theatre teacher by the environment and program he created at my high school. I wanted to give others the opportunities and experiences that I had in his theatre class and extra-curricular activities.
The Miracle Worker, Noblesville High School, 2017
What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?
In 2011, I was awarded one of the Indiana Teacher Creativity Awards from the Lilly Endowment. For my grant, my husband and I took a pontoon boat, redecked it, built a cabin on it, and paddled a little over 200 miles on the Yukon River in The Yukon. We were on the water and lived on our boat for three weeks, where we saw more bears than people. Jack London and The Gold Rush inspired this adventure, and there wasn’t a moment that was not exhilarating, fascinating, humbling, frightening, or dangerous—and a few moments were all of the above. I truly loved only focusing on the decisions that were absolutely necessary for our safety and survival in that very moment. Someday (soon, I hope) I’ll get back to The Yukon for a more relaxed trip; the vast beauty up there is unrivaled to anything else I have experienced on this earth.
If you enjoyed Susan’s interview as much as we did, follow her on Twitter (@mrsnieten and @NHSTheatre) or 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.