Open Forum

Community Spotlight: Garry Tiller

By Ginny Butsch posted 08-27-2019 13:46


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 Garry Tiller, an EdTA professional member and the theatre teacher at Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C. With nearly 30 years of theatre education experience from four different states, Garry is always willing to help a colleague, most notably with show recommendations and tips.


Why do you believe theatre is important?


Theatre is important to our body, mind and spirit. Especially in our technology driven world where more and more people are so connected to their device, we currently see an alarming disconnect with human interaction. We need theatre more than ever to provide us with opportunities for thought, reflection and communication (with ourselves, each other and our audience.)

 13 The Musical, directed and choreographed by Garry this past July at YAA’s Summer Performing Arts Intensive at Sandy Springs Friends School in Olney, Maryland

What advice would you give a new theatre teacher?


As a career theatre arts teacher, the best advice I can give to a new teacher is to stay in the moment and be yourself! My first year of teaching I was so excited, I wrote lesson plans for the entire first semester in advance. I spent a lot of time that first semester adjusting my plans as I was ahead with this class and behind with that class, etc.  I am a planner, but I have learned not to over-plan down to the last detail and to always be willing to go with the teachable moment. It happens more often than not. As far as being yourself goes, the students will quickly see through anyone who isn't authentic. We learn and grow from our mentors, but we must be true to who we are to truly be successful.


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


My favorite musical (I get asked this a lot) would have to be Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin. It was the first college production I was in (I played Theo at the University of Missouri/Columbia) and it was definitely different from the traditional fare I was exposed to in my high school. During an early rehearsal, the director stopped and told me to try playing Theo younger. I naively responded to him that I thought I should play the role as my age at the time. He paused in thought,  and then told me he agreed. After rehearsal he told me I had a director's sensibility! The experience taught me that I indeed had "magic to do!" 


My favorite play: anything from Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire is perfection) and/or Neil Simon (Lost in Yonkers is brilliant).


Garry preparing for You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown last April at Sidwell Friends School.


What was the first role you ever played?


The first role I ever played was that of a prejudiced kid in a class play (the title has slipped my memory) in the 6th grade. I was the only cast member who had all their lines memorized and I remember really loving the experience. After the performance, everyone told me how good I was, and I even signed a few autographs for students from other classes! Something shifted within. It’s like the planets aligned. I related to the character, not for being prejudiced, but for feeling different and not being afraid to hide it. I had the bug. My teacher told me I needed to pursue theatre in middle school. I took her advice.


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


I am getting ready to begin my 30th year of teaching, but only my second year at my current school. 

  • Act I: I began my teaching career at Central High School in St. Joseph, Missouri where I taught theatre and directed productions for six years. (One of my former students currently has the position!) 
  • Act II: I relocated (due to spouse's job) to Baltimore, Maryland where I taught, directed and served as Performing Arts Department Chair at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School for nineteen years. 
  • Intermission: I relocated to Hawaii for a little over three years (again, due to spouse's job) where I did not meet with success as a full-time teacher (this could be ranked as a major disappointment, except I wouldn't be where I am today if I had gotten a teaching job in Hawaii.) Things happen for a reason. Again, stay in the moment!
  • Act III: (and if I have anything to do with it, my final act) I relocated to Washington, DC (you guessed it, spouse’s job) where I landed my current position at Sidwell Friends School. I happily once again teach theatre and direct productions in my very own, lovely, little black box theatre. I count my blessings, instead of sheep!

Garry thrilled to hold the Emmy Award (one of many) of alumni parent, veteran American sports writer Ken Rosenthal.


What is your proudest accomplishment?


My proudest accomplishment could very be securing my current job at Sidwell Friends after my "Hawaiian Hiatus" (I was worried I had lost my mojo), but a close second would be the selection of my former program in Baltimore County, MD as one of the top 5 arts programs in the nation by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2012. (I built that program from scratch!) Of course, I am also supremely proud of so many of my former students who are living their best life as artists in the wonderful world of performing arts.


If you enjoyed Garry’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.