I’m excited to announce a new recurring feature on my blog: “7½ Questions with…”
Debb Adams has graciously agreed to be my first interview. Debb teaches drama at White Knoll Middle School in Lexington, SC and switched to teaching drama last year after 13 years of teaching English. Her passion for theater started in elementary school and has continued throughout her life.
Debb and I first met onstage when we were actors at Newberry College, and she’s one of the nicest, most caring and talented people that I’ve ever met. And it is no surprise that she’s also one of the most outstanding teachers in her district. She’s a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Office and attempts to work allusions to both into her everyday life. She is also hugely into young adult literature and “all kinds of geeky nerdy weirdness and have been celebrating that quietly most of my life, vociferously the past 10 years or so.”
This year, Debb has decided to bring my play, Awaiting Wonderland, to the White Knoll stage. (And I am very appreciative.) This play presents a different spin on Alice in Wonderland and is often funny, at times sad, sometimes ridiculous and confusing, and perhaps meaningful. Which I suppose is like life.
Below, Debb opens up about herself, teaching and directing theatre, and Awaiting Wonderland.
1. Why did you go into teaching drama?
Beginning in elementary school, acting has been a passion of mine. I absolutely love it. I have high standards, and I want my middle school students to grow with high standards of craft and performance. In addition, there are so many real world math, reading, and writing skills that are woven into theatre/drama instruction. This helps my students in their core classes, but also helps give more meaning to their schooling as a whole. Finally, there is not enough play and laughter during the school day. I want my classroom to be one place where there is just that—very serious play and laughter.
2. What is some advice that you would give to the beginning teacher diving into the world of working with young actors?
The best advice I can give is to keep your standards high. The students will rise to meet them. Do not underestimate the value of play. Teach the students the value of reflection, and have them begin critiquing each other from day one. This will help on so many levels. Finally, do NOT be afraid to scrap a lesson if it’s sinking, falling on deaf ears, or even if you’re just not up to it that particular day. Teaching drama is an incredibly personal, exhausting, wonderful calling—do not forget why you answered it!
3. Describe your process in selecting a play for your actors to perform.
Gosh, so much of what I do is from my gut. I am constantly reading scripts. Thank goodness for the companies with on-line samples. I also have students always reading, too. But when I sit down to really get serious about choosing a play, I think about the talent pool, the purpose, our season. (We do one social justice play each year.) Then gut kicks in. It’s got to be something that grabs my attention, makes me excited, evokes visions, and won’t let me sleep.
4. Why did you decide to have your actors perform Awaiting Wonderland, and what are some of the delightfully challenging challenges that you have encountered?
Alice in Wonderland has never been one of my favorite works. I initially looked at it because I wanted to do a play that Steven wrote. I just thought it would be cool to say, “I know the playwright.” I was right, it is! Even before I decided to stage it, I had a copy of the script, and the students saw it, and immediately were intrigued, and after reading almost militant about doing the play. Still, it was the darkness of this adaptation of Alice that made me want to jump in. No offense to Lewis Carroll, but this script is better than the original.
The biggest delightful challenge I’ve had is forcing the pop culture images out of the students’ minds. Trying to get “Cheshy” to get beyond the pink and purple from the Disney cartoon, and the Hatter to get beyond Johnny Depp’s (my husband) Hatter was a huge challenge. Also getting the cast to understand on all levels the intricacies of this play has been challenging. I don’t want to give anything away, but even 4 weeks into rehearsal, the cast is still fleshing out implications of each character’s actions on the ending and feelings about it, and repercussions for Wonderland of it.
5. Of all the characters in Awaiting Wonderland, whom would you choose to spend a day with and why?
Three days before spring break, my initial answer is Dormouse because we could just sleep. I think it would be fabulous to spend the day with the Mad Hatter because he (and he is a he in our production) knows so much of what goes on in Wonderland and manages to stay upbeat and have fun in spite of it. I love the Mouse, too. She is a loving, caring oracle. If I needed a calm day, I’d spend it with her.
6. What’s your best memory of being on the stage?
I’m not just saying this because it is Steven’s blog, but my best memory is playing Vladimir opposite Steven’s Estragon in Waiting for Godot in college. Godot has always been one of my favorite plays, so I was ecstatic that I was cast. But the physical humor that Steven and I were able to infuse into the play made it a blast to do. It was so much fun playing with radishes (we had to use turnips) and doing hat bits. One of my biggest joys on the stage!!
7. What would be your ideal entrance theme to play every time you entered a room?
This year it is “Applause” by Lady GaGa. I actually sing it sometimes as I enter. In my head, depending on my mood, sometimes I hear “Hail to the Chief,” sometimes I hear “Send in the Clowns.”
7 ½. If you could . . . (You finish the question here and then answer.)
If you could live in any work of literature, where would you live?
Definitely in the world of Harry Potter. Those books changed my life and brought me to teaching. More than that, I love the characters. I’d definitely be in The Order of the Phoenix. I’d be a guest teacher at Hogwarts, not a full-time teacher because I’d want to make mischief as well.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.