Many high schools are lucky enough to have robust and successful theatre programs. Here in Newton, many would say there are two.
With packed theatre classes, long auditions lists and increased ticket sales, high school theatre programs in the Garden City show all the signs that they are growing and flourishing.
And although there are many contributing factors for this success, there are two main reasons for the achievement: Newton South's South Stage Director Jeff Knoedler and Newton North's Director of Theatre Ink Adam Brown.
Having worked at their schools for 11 and 10 years respectively, Brown and Knoedler have seen the programs flourish under their leadership. Both men, though, reject the notion that they are the sole reason for this success.
“There are students who want to learn about theatre and grow through theatre. I am responsible for all their experiences. I try to make thoughtful, effective decisions for the program, because the kids are depending on me for that. The first question I ask when we are about to start a show is, ‘is this right for our community’,” says Knoedler.
“I lead from within, not from the top. I’m good at bringing people together and bring out their strengths," Brown says. "I lead by modeling all those foundational things that makes art special."
One sign of success: ticket sales. The thriving Newton theatre programs quickly sell out shows, as Knoedler notes how last year’s “Hairspray” sold out in a matter of days.
Both Knoedler and Brown agree that it’s rare tickets are available on the night of a show.
Although there are some big differences in how they each approach the running of their programs, Brown and Knoedler have many similarities. Both are married with children, and are trying to find time for family life while working long hours at their schools.
Both grew up other places (Knoedler in Nebraska and Brown in New York), moved here to start careers and have participated in their craft by acting, directing and teaching.
Both have large offices constantly filled with kids, who gravitate to these comfortable environments to talk, eat lunch and study with their peers and their teacher.
One of the main differences in the programs is that Newton North offers a more student-centered program. There are also more productions per year at North and many are directed and run by students.
Brown says that students are given teaching tools to empower them. The learning, he says, comes through a system of trial and error.
"What is special about Theatre Ink is the process; it’s about how we get there," Brown says. "That’s why we call it a teaching and working theatre. Our biggest asset is our students who care so much about each other and what they do and how they do it."
Newton South, on the other hand, relies on guest directors and visiting artists to enhance its program.
“South Stage operates on the philosophy that our kids will learn more from adult directors,” says Knoedler.
There is one area of overlap between the two schools, though, and that is the annual Shakespeare production. This year, Twelfth Night will be performed on May 10-12.
Knoedler and Brown are both grateful they have been able to successfully fundraise and receive financial support from the Newton Public Schools. The programs, they say, would not happen without additional theatre staff and full-time tech professionals.
But it's not just the finances that help the program flourish, Knoedler notes, it's also the culture in which the students live. In some cases, these "sophisticated" students are attending more Broadway plays and theatre than their director, Knoedler says.
“As educators, we talk about the Proclamation of Education," Brown says. "You can never leave a place without teaching those you leave behind. The students leave the other students with this culture. They model it.”
Newton North's Theatre Ink will be performing Legally Blonde starting this Thursday, March 15. The show will run March 15-17 at 7:30 p.m. and March 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available online.
Newton South's South Stage will perform their March Cabaret this week, March 15-17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are also available online.