A Partnership That Inspires

April 13, 2009

Amy Dugas Brown, no rx Associate Artistic Director at the Arden, discusses the inspiring students of Camden Creative Arts High School.

I walked into the Haas today to check out a class with my favorite students in the whole wide world, taught by two of my favorite teachers. The drama and dance students from the Camden High School sat in section E, rapt. Ben Dibble and Jeff Coon were teaching them about acting musical theatre. Ben was thoughtful and thorough and precise. Jeff was impassioned and emotional and entreating. The students were on edges of their seats. They had just seen the 10 a.m. performance of A Year with Frog and Toad. They were simultaneously filled with serious questions and comments (they all, after all, plan to pursue theatre professionally) and excitement and flirtation (we are talking about Ben and Jeff, here).

We’ve been partnering with Creative Arts for six years now. Their drama students see five plays a year at the Arden and we provide them with at least one master class for each production that they see. In addition, I go to Camden to teach them acting and audition technique two to three times each school year. Getting to know these students and see them grow has been one of the highlights of my career. When the class of 2009 graduates this June, they will be the third class I’ve seen grow up from wide-eyed freshmen to college-bound seniors. They are lead in that epic journey by Dr. Douglas Overtoom, a man we all call Doc. He’s part artist, part teacher, and part zealot.

To say that Doc has changed these students’ lives is in no way hyperbolic. It is rare to find a high school teacher as knowledgeable and passionate about theatre as Doc. He puts these kids through their paces. He immerses them in dramatic literature. I could pick any student and that student would be able to perform a monologue from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere and Wilson, with perhaps a little George C. Wolfe thrown in there for good measure. Now, I have my theatre degree from Barnard College, Columbia University, and if you had asked me to do the same my senior year there, do you think I would have been able to do it? I probably would have done you a mean Queen Margaret from Henry VI, Part II, and hoped it was so good that you would have forgotten that I couldn’t deliver the other goods. In the interest of painting a complete picture, I just called my buddy Jeff Coon, who has a degree in theatre from University of Pennsylvania and asked him the same question, “Okay, in school – give me your Greek comedy, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Moliere, Miller…” He laughed at me. You see what I’m trying to say about the gift that Doc is giving to these kids?

And then there are the students. They are enthusiastic and curious and brimming with energy. They are a group of individuals. There’s Angeline who is going to be a playwright and director. Wait, let me restate, is a playwright and will soon become a director when she goes to college this fall. Then there are the sophomore boys, Kwazik and Marcus, both so good in such divergent ways. (When I envision the future, I see Kwazik playing Tusenbach in The Three Sisters, Whining Boy in The Piano Lesson, Caliban in The Tempest; Marcus will play Paul in Six Degrees of Separation, be Doaker to Kwazik’s Whining Boy, Brutus in Julius Caesar). Then there are the amazing sisters Edilay and Loyda (last seen at the school as those canonical sisters Antigone and Ismene) who can perform Lorca in Spanish. There is so much talent and dedication and potential in Doc’s kids. It is always exciting to be around potential and the palpable energy that potential produces. It’s an energy that makes you believe anything is possible. And in our world, where it is so easy to believe exactly the opposite, to feel that kind of energy is truly an inspiration.

And it’s a good day, indeed, when you can take a walk down into the Haas and leave inspired. So, Doc, Camden Creative Arts High School students and, of course, Ben and Jeff, thank you so very much for the inspiration you provide me!

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