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 Scott Cooney, the troupe director and theatre arts teacher at Burlington County Institute of Technology-Medford in Medford, New Jersey, home to Troupe 7891. Scott serves on the board of the New Jersey Thespians and has been contributing plenty of helpful tips and advice over the last 6 years.
Why do you believe theatre is important?
Theatre might possibly be the most important subject in our schools today. Cellphones and social media have connected the world in a way that is unprecedented and has unfortunately resulted in students interacting more with their cellphones than with actual humans in the present moment. This is producing a trend of lower social skills and higher anxiety. Theatre is an artform that reinforces listening and communication skills, creativity and imagination, concentration, teamwork, self-confidence, and social interaction. It demands that everyone involved be in the present moment and is essential to helping battle the ongoing trends we see amongst our students. This trend is even affecting college graduates, as a majority are unhirable because they lack the crucial people skills you need to land a job, be part of and work on a team, as well as navigate the day-to-day rigors and stresses of a modern workplace. I bet things would be different for them if they were involved in theatre as a kid or an adult.
Cast of Singin' in the Rain
Have you always known you would be a theatre teacher? Or what led you to this career?
While working as an actor, I began coaching high school students through the college audition process on the side. These young artists were extremely talented and had a genuine love for acting, but most of them had very little actual training in acting technique. While working with one young man, I remember thinking to myself, “Imagine where he would be if he started receiving the training in technique I received in college as a freshman in high school.” I loved how my training and experience as an actor helped me push these kids outside of their comfort zones, stretch them as young artists, and prepare them for the next level of training as they pursued a career in the arts. I realized I could be very happy teaching acting and enrolled in an online master’s program that allowed me to continue my career as an artist while pursuing my degree in education. Shortly after I finished my degree, a job opening appeared and the rest is history. I have been sharing my love and passion for acting and theatre ever since.
Do you have any special training or skills?
The foundation of my acting training in college was in Uta Hagen’s acting technique. Since then, I have trained in various techniques, including Viewpoints, Chehkov, and acting from Shakespeare’s First Folio. The acting technique I am most passionate about is the Meisner technique. I am looking to attend Larry Silverberg’s Summer Meisner Certification program as soon as life returns to normal. I have a foundation in directing, lighting, sound design, and basic fight choreography. I also took an Intimacy Performance workshop in NYC two years back with Alicia Rodis and am a huge advocate for intimacy training and empowering our teachers and students with this knowledge.
What is your greatest challenge?
Always time and time management. I believe that is the greatest challenge for any artist and teacher. There are always deadlines and opening nights. The goal is always to get whatever you are creating or working on to the best possible place before that deadline. There will always be things you wish you did or could change. The goal is to limit the number of those things before you run out of time.
What does a typical day look like for you?
We have block scheduling: 4 Blocks, 80 minutes each. I have a 40-minute lunch and no prep because it is a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. During my lunch, I am usually working with a student or using it as my prep. Here is my teaching schedule and courses:
Acting I (80 minutes) - Sophomores
Advanced Acting I/II (40 Minutes) - Sophomores/Juniors
Intro to Tech (40 minutes) - Sophomores/Juniors
Contemporary Theatre/College Auditions (80 Minutes) - Seniors
Intro to Acting I (80 minutes) - Freshman
Monologue Audition/Acting the Song I & II (40 minutes) - Sophomores/Juniors
Classical Theatre/Acting in Shakespeare (40 minutes) - Sophomores/Juniors
Technical Theatre (MP 3)/Theatre History (MP 4) (80 Minutes) - Juniors
Directing (80 Minutes) - Seniors
Intro to Acting II (80 minutes) - Freshman
I coach boys soccer from Mid-August to the end of October. Rehearse my fall play almost every Saturday from the 2nd weekend in September. Once soccer season ends, I go right into rehearsing the play after school from 3:00-5:15 pm and continue Saturday rehearsals until we open around the end of November or first week of December. Then it is right into casting the musical and rehearsing that every day after school, including Saturdays. Our musical's last performance is always the Saturday before Easter/Spring Break. Then I get a slight break to start planning next year’s productions and possibly direct another small show if I have time.
Do you have any tips for new theatre teachers?
Do not stress. You are enough and what you are doing is enough. Bring passion, joy, and your love for theatre to every lesson and you will be right as rain.
What was the first play you ever saw?
A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ. It snowed on stage and the set moved. My mind was blown. First Broadway show was Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk.
What was the first role you ever played?
Oh wow. I actually had to look this play up. I played Deputy Junior Hampster in Jim Kelly’s play, The Phantom of the Opry in 7th grade.
What playwright would you love to have lunch with? Tell us a question you’d ask them.
Shakespeare. I know he is dead, but I would simply ask him, no I would beg him, to please tell me his process on how he went about writing his plays.
What is unique about your program?
I helped found and build my program from its inception. I was hired at Burlington County Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Medford to teach theatre to every single student that attended the school to satisfy the state of NJ’s visual and performing arts requirement. This meant every senior in the school, who chose to attend this school to study a trade (auto, welding, culinary, health occupation, plumbing, HVAC, cosmetology), was now being forced to take a theatre class in order to graduate. I taught four 80-minute classes (with class sizes of 30+ students) every day without a prep for the entire year so that every senior could meet their state requirement and graduate. By the end of each semester, these students who wanted nothing to do with my class had absolutely fallen in love with theatre. None of them were planning to be actors, but they all gained essential skills and grew in their own way during their time with me. At the end of the school year, I attended graduation and was sitting there on stage with the seniors at the end of one of the rows (it was the school’s answer at the time to keep the kids from doing anything inappropriate), listening as the valedictorian of the senior class was giving his speech discussing the new experiences of the past school year. He said, “It was a year of many firsts. We got a brand-new principal. And of course, a brand new theatre teacher.” The second he spoke the words “theatre teacher” the entire senior class broke out in applause, rose to their feet and gave me a standing ovation as if I just won some prestigious award. It was so completely unexpected and moving that I started crying on stage. I will never forget that moment or my first year teaching. Right after the ceremony, my principal came up to me and stated he wanted to make performing arts a career major at our school and that I was the person to help him bring it to fruition.
Three years later, BCIT Medford’s School of Performing Arts was founded, giving any student in Burlington County the opportunity to study four years of dance or acting, with a professional artist from that discipline, while pursuing their high school diploma. Since then, our program has grown into BCIT Medford’s Academy of Performing Arts and has added an instrumental and vocal career major, as well as a musical theatre track for students planning to major as an MT in college. I am very proud of the program that my colleagues and I have built and love that we have created a program in Burlington County geared towards getting young artists who are serious about pursuing a career in the performing arts to the next level.
Cast of Godspell
What would you consider your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
The greatest lesson I have learned is that true growth and learning only takes place when we fail. There is no path to becoming extraordinary if you keep doing what is safe, sane, and ordinary. You have to embrace the scary and bold and be willing to get outside of yourself, make mistakes, and try something new in order to become the person you were destined to be. Focus on that person you were meant to be. Focus on the end result. You should want to fail, because each time you make a mistake, you learn a lesson that gets you closer to your dream. It is only failure when you quit. You never fail if you learn and continue on your journey. There is only growth.
Everyone has at least one good theatre story (a costume mishap, smoke alarms during performances, malfunctioning set pieces, etc). Tell us yours!
All of the mishaps my students have experienced can be traced back to one thing: students saying the “M” word. The Curse is Real. Do not say the “M” word in a theatre!
Name something on your bucket list.
I want to head to a Dark Sky Reserve to look at the stars.
I also want to experience the next Total Solar Eclipse as I missed the last one and want to see the Corona and totality with my naked eye.
If you could have a different career, what would you choose?
How do you relax after a busy day?
Time with my beautiful wife and son. I love you both!
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I just wrapped up directing Macbeth: The Scottish Play in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. It was a concept I have had for a while and I am really grateful to the cast and crew for helping me bring this production that combined two of my loves (Shakespeare and Star Wars) to life. I put a lot into this one. Besides directing the play, I rearranged and edited Shakespeare’s original text from the first folio to support my vision, designed all the sound to support the concept, created all the video and multimedia, and choreographed all the fights in the show. By the way, everything is more fun with lightsabers.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of theatre?
I love to run and exercise. Still love to play soccer even at 42. Anything physical that brings me into the present moment.
What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a Reiki Master and am really into meditation and spirituality.
What is your favorite part of the day?
Spending time with my 4-year-old son. His smile and laughter are the best.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I am actually really content where I live now in Medford Lakes, NJ. If I do relocate, where I go has to be close to nature, the ocean, and have a tremendous love and support for the arts.
What toy do you most remember from your childhood?
I loved the Star Wars and GI Joe figures as a kid. I know it is not a toy, but my baby blanket was my item growing up. I actually still have it and use it as a pillow occasionally.
If you enjoyed Scott’s interview as much as we did, add him as a contact in the Community. Scott also provided some links if you’d like to learn more about his production of Macbeth: The Scottish Play in a Galaxy Far, Far Away (a great idea to review online with your students!):
Link to Final Fight of Macbeth:
Full show of Macbeth:
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.