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Community Spotlight: Ryan Moore

By Ginny Butsch posted 12-23-2014 03:48


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 latest Spotlight Member is Ryan Moore, an EdTA professional member and theatre teacher at Abbott Middle School in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Ryan was an early adopter of our Community (he helped with our beta test) and has earned Gold MVM status for his valuable contributions. He also makes time to participate in various community theatres as an actor, director, stage manager, and board member.

 Photograph via Prof KRG.

Ginny: Why do you believe theatre is important?

Ryan: Well, here’s a question that could lead to a book-length answer, but I have to save something for my memoirs, don’t I? 

Still, here are some thoughts that I’ve been mulling over lately, about theatre’s importance, particularly as it relates to my students.

Theatre teaches us that hard work over a long period of time pays off.

Many of our students are… let’s charitably say, “work-averse.”  Our current culture is mired in the now: “What kind of experience am I having right now?”  And never before have youth and adults alike been able to express these emotional snapshots in so many ways to so many people so immediately.  Update my status?  Check.  Tweet it out?  Check.  Comment.  Like. 

Yet, full participation in theatre requires thinking beyond this minute, this hour, this day as we take on the daunting, painful, and, yes, often monotonous task of preparing the monologue, the scene, the show for its moment in the public eye.  All of us who work with kids in theatre know how much of our energy goes into BEING the will of our charges throughout the many difficult phases of the project. On our most difficult days, it can feel like an insane task.  Student A doesn’t have any interest in learning his lines because, what’s the fun in that?  He signed up for fun!  Student B is focused when it’s her time on stage, but is a complete monster when it’s the much-needed time for others to be the center of attention because this is her time, her day, her life.  Student C has never seen a prop he didn’t want to play with because props are fun regardless of whether they’re assigned to him and no matter how many lectures the teacher gives on appropriate prop use. (Confidentially to students, theatre teachers know props are fun; they wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t know that all elements of theatre were a total blast.)

Still, when you all manage to get there in one piece, to the performance (perhaps beyond it, in a moment of post-show reflection), you can generally get students to see that neither the kind nor the degree of fun they had would have been possible without those awful “boring” (a middle schooler’s favorite criticism) moments that preceded this present glory.  Sure, it’s more fun on a given Wednesday to play video games than to than drill lines.  But, the exhilaration of a job well done on closing night exceeds beating a thousand levels of a thousand video games.  If my students, whether they participate in theatre beyond their time with me (I always HOPE they do, but know this is not always the case) leave me knowing that sacrifices made today pay dividends tomorrow, I am satisfied.

Theatre teaches us that HOW we say something is as important as WHAT we say. 

Again, social media makes instant publishers of us all.  We have an ability that is unprecedented in human history to make our thoughts known to a wide audience.  Yet, how much of what we spit out has real impact?  How much sticks and really affects those it reaches?  Theatre is still the home of the well-honed utterance. In this noisy world of capricious commentary, theatre-makers still must slow down and consider: What am I trying to do with this line?  What am I expressing through body and gesture? How do the words and actions of the other character affect my character?  How is the intended message amplified by the perfect light or sound cue?  What is communicated by not saying anything at all?  And such decisions are not arrived at without experimentation and work in rehearsal resulting in, one hopes, a statement that reaches the audience at the deepest level and stays with them after the final curtain.

Theatre is something we do WITH others FOR others.

I often feel like actors get a bad rap, perceived as attention seekers.  There is that glory element to it; anyone who’s been on stage enough has felt that rush at some point.  Still, the longer I do this, the more I am convinced that theatre is among the more generous and giving activities that a person can participate in.  I see my students come to learn through their three years with me the degree to which theatre is not “all about them.”  I watch them learn to check their egos at the door and commit to the larger project.  There’s the mutual responsibility an actor has with those he or she shares the stage with.  There’s the wonderful “it takes a village” quality of theatre where everyone’s contributions are essential, be they lead actor, chorus member, technician, designer.  And, significantly, there’s the responsibility to the audience, which I think is sacred.  We invite the world in and say, “we’re going to tell you a compelling story, we’re going to give you a wonderful experience, and we’re going to do it right in front of you, in the room with you.”  I love that feeling, come showtime, that whatever stumbling we did in rehearsal, whatever kind of day we’re having, everything is secondary to this very communal experience.  It takes bravery, it takes focus, and, yes, it takes profound generosity of spirit to create that kind of magic.

Theatre education teaches the whole person.

It’s not accidental that nearly every alleged innovation or new focus that comes along in education is second nature to theatre teachers.  Rigor?  We’ve been demanding it for years.  Problem-solving skills?  How else is theatre created?  Project-based learning?  We practically invented it.  Allowing students to try a task again and again with immediate and specific teacher feedback?  We call it rehearsal.  A focus on student growth?  It’s almost our sole concern.  And so on.  Many of fellow educators are waking up to the reality that students are not merely vessels into which knowledge can be poured, that students must be participants in their learning, but we theatre teachers have always been focused on creating experiences that call on all parts of the human being we’re educating.

Ginny: What is your greatest challenge?

Ryan: Well, there are many, obviously, from shifting cultural norms that make it ever more difficult to ensure that highly scheduled and overbooked students can commit to being at rehearsals and performances to technology that makes it increasingly difficult to keep students “present” even when they are in attendance to the age-old expectation on the part of both students and parents that success in theatre is a function of always having the lead role.  But, honestly, the concern that has plagued me most persistently lately is the trend of high stakes evaluations for teachers.  This job (and I’m talking about all teachers, not just theatre teachers) is nigh on impossible on a good day.  And now, it seems, we have a new full-time job of proving that we’re doing the impossible job.  It especially concerns me because electives teachers don’t necessarily fit neatly into the box prescribed by many of the evaluation instruments being used.  We face special challenges (e.g. recruitment and retention) that other teachers don’t face, but when we succeed in the face of these challenges, the evaluation doesn’t necessarily have room to acknowledge that.  Also, we provide students with a kind of learning that isn’t necessarily honored in the evaluations.  So, on paper at least, we are required to make ourselves more like our colleagues instead of celebrating what is truly special and important about the work we do. 

Ginny: Do you have any tips for new theatre teachers?

Ryan: Be prepared to teach administrators and colleagues about what you do.  It’s common for theatre teachers to be a one-person department, and our needs and our triumphs may not be easily understood by others. 

Of course it’s important to form alliances with your colleagues in your building, but don’t forget to seek out allies outside your building as well. (The communities on EdTA’s website are a great start, as are conferences, and making friends with other theatre teachers and theatre professionals in your community).

If you are an actor, get on stage every once in a while.  Not all the time.  You probably won’t have time for that, especially when you’re new, but treading the boards periodically can remind you what excited you about theatre initially and create tremendous empathy for what your students go through regularly. 

Ginny: What is unique about your program?

Ryan: I am fortunate to work in a building where theatre is mandatory for our incoming six graders.  It means I get to meet everyone, and, in doing so, I believe that many students who would never considered choosing theatre as an elective in seventh and eighth grade discover their hidden talents and unknown interests.  It also means that I have the unique perspective of knowing the whole school. 

In our middle school program, and I suspect that this is more often true of middle school programs than high school, the productions come out of the classes, rather than being strictly extra-curricular.  On the downside, this means that students who can’t fit theatre into their daily schedule can’t participate in the plays and musicals, but there are many benefits.  Because most of rehearsal is during the school day, students don’t have to choose between sports and other extra-curriculars and theatre.  I’m happy not to have to compete with sports.

I am also blessed to be able to teach theatre all day long, which always seems surprising to people when I tell them that.

Ginny: What will you miss the most after retiring?

Ryan: I think I will miss the ability, borne of pressure, to do a million things before lunch.  I always joke that a lot of retired people I know say things like this: “Oh I couldn’t possibly do dinner that day, I’m getting my haircut that afternoon.  I’m swamped.”  Yet, in the middle of July or some other extended break, I notice myself slipping into this way of thinking.  “Gee, I just made a sandwich.  I’m bushed. Time for a break.”  When there’s another group of students heading to your classroom in sixty minutes, you have an amazing capacity to spin lesson-planning gold from straw.

Ginny: If you could have a different career, what would you choose?

Ryan: I love words and writing, so I guess I’ve always dreamed of being paid for doing that.  Perhaps someday I will get my wish.

Ginny: What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?

Ryan: I’m extremely comfortable in front of a crowd (I don’t know how one could teach and/or direct and not be), and I love this hectic, messy, busy art of theatre, but I’m actually very introverted in a lot of ways.  I play a good extrovert, but one of my close colleagues likes to joke that when I leave school, I’m off to my sensory deprivation tank.  And he’s not that far off the mark.  

So many times during this interview, I found myself internally cheering, “Amen!” Ryan did such an eloquent job explaining the challenges theatre teachers face and why theatre should be a part of every student’s education. If you enjoyed Ryan’s interview as much as I did, add him as a contact in the Community!

Do you know someone who deserves a moment in the Spotlight? Tell me their name and why at Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.

1 comment



01-02-2015 21:43

Thank you so much for this spotlight! Some really well-put thoughts, and some gems that are definitely keepers. This is a great help; I especially connect with your points on how acting/theatre is less about attention seeking and really is one of the more giving/generous vocations out there. I had been beginning to get there subconsciously for years; thank you for saving me a couple more years of rumination!