I come from a background of working in professional theatre. I worked on Broadway, in film and television. I was the “success story” of our business. I made my living on the stage, traveled the world and basically had a blessed life in many ways. Then two things happened. One, on September 11, 2001, our sense of safety and trust in the world we live in was shaken. I spent weeks waiting to hear about friends and months sorting out my heart. Two, I turned 40. Seems small compared to the first event, but somehow the two linked in my head. I realized as much as I love performing, I felt…incomplete. I wanted to give back. So I switched career focus and started teaching drama at a high school in central New Jersey. I started teaching fulltime at Franklin High School, in Somerset. About an hour from New York City, Franklin is a large, extremely diverse public high school, with such a range of religions, ethnicities, ages, and economic backgrounds represented that it’s often jokingly referred to as the United Nations. When I joined the district, I was given the mission of creating a drama program. (The school, although not an arts magnet, already had programs in dance, music, television, and visual arts.) Initially I approached this task in a very traditional manner, looking to infuse my students with standard theatre history, theory, technique, and opportunities to perform and direct. But our school wasn’t a traditional school: our students were from all over the map, literally and figuratively. The issues they struggled with were so wide-ranging, and their academic and dramatic skills were so varied, I found myself seeking new ways to reach them, not just as a theatre artist but as an educator, mentor, and guide.
This journey led me to explore applied theatre. And as we have journeyed through our exploration, the students’ experience has been stunning. The students have often spoken about their own sense of personal civic and social responsibility. They speak about how this type of work has changed their perspective on their role in the world and in their community. They speak about how they used to be concerned about their next iPod; now they are concerned about the people around them. And I found it liberating as well.