Open Forum

 View Only

Community Spotlight: Kandace Arens

By Ginny Butsch posted 09-13-2016 09:14


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 Kandace Arens, Drama Teacher and Troupe Director for Troupe 4614 at Sehome High School in Bellingham, Washington. Kandace has earned a bronze MVM ribbon on her Community profile for her thoughtful insights on topics ranging from costume organization to putting on a 24-hour play festival.

Ginny: Why do you believe theatre is important?

Kandace: Theater is the story of humanity. We’ve had it since the beginning of time, and I’ll bet that we’ll have it until the very end. It’s our way of connecting with each other, healing with each other, and laughing with each other. We modern theater-makers are still just storytellers, after all.

Ginny: What inspired you to become a teacher?

Kandace: After college, I spent a year working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a community support person for the homeless population in Seattle. A major part of my job was simply to listen and be present with the homeless folks. During my conversations, I heard over and over again how they wished that someone had cared about them in high school. Maybe, they said, their life would’ve turned out a little differently. I decided that I wanted to, in some way, try to be that person for someone. So, I went back to school and got my teaching credential. Now, I teach high school drama and English. And yes, I try to remember this story when I get bogged down in the muck of my day to day, I’m yelling at the copy machine, six kids are trying to talk to me at once, and I forgot my lunch!

Ginny: What is the most important advice you can offer to new theatre teachers?

Kandace: This Samuel Beckett quote is my favorite piece of advice, and it was first shared with me from an influential playwriting teacher: “Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Take that to heart. You are going to be fine. Think deeply about the why of it all and let that drive you. The rest will find itself. And, trust the kids. There’s a lot more of them than you and, half the time, they have better ideas than you will anyway.

Ginny: What does a typical day look like for you?

Kandace: Right now, I am teaching two sections of English, two sections of Drama (Drama 1 and Advanced Drama) and then I run the after-school drama program. This year, I don’t teach until the 3rd period (usually around 9am), so I have some time in the morning at home to have coffee, catch up on grading or prep, go to the gym, etc. Then, I’ll go to school. I’ll teach all day (until 2:30) and then take a 45-minute break after school to prep, get a snack, have a meeting with ITS officers, etc. Then, we’ll have a 2-hour rehearsal for whatever production we’re working on at the moment. Finally, I head home, take my dog on a walk, and have dinner with my family!

Ginny: Have you found a way to achieve a good work/life balance? If so, share your tips!

Kandace: Well, don’t feel guilty taking time for yourself. Yes, I actually schedule “self-care” on my agenda! I deeply believe in the idea of nourishing yourself so that you can nourish others. I’ve been focusing on this lately, and I try very hard to stay in touch with my own needs. I’m pretty lucky in that my fiancé is also my technical director, so we get to have a lot of quality time working on the production together. Also, delegate. Give the kids jobs. I know a lot of theater educators who try to do everything themselves (and hey, I’m one of them sometimes!). But hand off those small jobs! No one person can put on a show or run a drama program. Stop trying to do it all yourself. It builds self-efficacy for the kids and helps you have a life too. And finally – say no. Firmly. Practice saying it again. You are under no obligation to be everything to everyone. All you can do is the best that you can. And that is pretty darn amazing already.

Ginny: What is unique about your theatre program?

Kandace: Well, to talk about my program, I’ve got to talk about the theater space we work in. So, we’ve got this little brick auditorium that was turned into a theater when a couple of committed English teachers hung up some curtains and lights over one summer back in the 1960’s. Half the lights don’t work correctly, our speakers are shorting out, we have barely any wing space, our curtains are all different sizes and hung up with some random chain on a track, the sight lines are terrible…and it’s the most magical place you’ve ever been! Seriously! What this type of theater has created is a do-it-yourself attitude where the kids believe that we can make theater out of anything. We all have to band together to make the magic happen. It’s just pure heart. They’re so creative and positive, even in the face of things being broken or run-down. It’s so great. We’re actually going to get a new building in about 4 years, and I’m a little worried to lose this beautiful energy. How will we handle it when everything works!??

Ginny: What is the weirdest stage food you’ve ever made or eaten?

Kandace: I was in this scene for a showcase performance when I was in high school about these sisters who are at a distant relative’s funeral. There were all of these gross “casseroles” (made of peanut butter and who knows what else) that we were supposed to be eating throughout the scene.  It was a dark comedy and I was getting some really big laughs. I totally spooked on stage because I had never experienced laughs like that before because of something that I had done, so I gestured a little too hard holding a fork with “casserole” on it. It flung forward and landed PLOP right on the stage. My director had taught me to always pick up a stray prop that falls onstage, so I did the only thing I could think of – I picked it up and ate it, right off the floor! The audience roared with laughter. I never lived it down.

Ginny: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of theatre?

Kandace: I play in an intramural softball and kickball league (depending on the season). We all actually signed up randomly a few summers ago and didn’t know each other at all, but just got along really well and formed a team. Nobody on the team is a teacher, does theater, or works with teenagers. It’s so refreshing. Once a week, we get together and play. It’s a blast!

Ginny: What is your proudest accomplishment?

Kandace: My fiancé, Laura. She’s definitely much cooler, smarter, and funnier than me. We’ve known each other since we were in high school, so she pretty much knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. Somehow, I convinced her to marry me. Our relationship is the best thing I’ve ever done.

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

Kandace: When I was in middle school, my aunt entered me into a random raffle on the radio to be one of the “Kid’s Team” for the Harlem Globetrotters. I was really into basketball when I was in middle-school, so this was just about the coolest thing that could’ve happened to me. Well, I won! I got to sit on the bench during a game, they gave me a jersey, and I got to hang out with them during the game. It was really cool and they were all really nice – and so tall! Then, during half-time, I got to shoot free-throws and every free-throw that I got in earned scholarship money for college! I made 2 out of 3, and they wrote me up one of those giant checks and everything. It was so cool.

Ginny: Tell us about the best day of your life.

Kandace: Well, I saw Hamilton this summer and got to meet most of the original cast, so…

It’s inspiring to hear how highly Kandace regards her students and their educational experience. Her down-to-earth, yet adventurous, attitude seems to have created a positive learning environment filled with leadership opportunities. If you enjoyed Kandace’s interview as much as I did, add her 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.