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Community Spotlight: Valerie Farschman

By Ginny Butsch posted 09-27-2016 09:29


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 Valerie Farschman, Drama Director and Troupe Director for Troupe 1422 at Marion L. Steele High School in Amherst, Ohio. Valerie is a lifelong learner who has served on the Ohio Educational Theatre Association state board and has been contributing top notch advice to our Community.

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

Valerie: Every teacher needs to love children. If you cannot, get out. Even loving children of all ages will not be enough to help you get through some days. The second most important thing is to have a sense of humor. Be able to laugh at yourself. If you are able to laugh at your own mistakes, it will model for the students that it is ok to make mistakes, own up to them, and move on.  Make your class fun by being a joyful person. The students need humor as much as adults, and they do react positively to that. There will be those times where if you don’t laugh, you may cry.  Better to laugh. Do your best, and don’t angst if it is good enough. I struggled with that for years. Learn to say to yourself, “I am good enough” and move forward. Often teaching English (with countless essays to grade) and running a theatre program at night got to be too much.  I never really learned how to balance that with my personal life. I did eventually realize that I could only do so much, so I forgave myself for not being super woman. If I did my best, I could look at myself in the mirror proudly.

Ginny: What is unique about your theatre program?

Valerie: The students in the MLS Theatre Company handle every aspect of a major production.  They often design the sets and lights. We have crew heads who are responsible for building the sets, lights, sound, props, costumes, make-up, publicity, box office, setting up and running house, creating the programs, and researching as a dramaturg.  This is a wonderful opportunity for leadership positions in our theatre company. These students meet with me, the director and the tech director once a week at a production meeting.  The other students work under these crew heads in crews. During productions, our booster parents have their own table for selling fan-o-grams (created by a student) flowers and other theatre gear. Everything else is handled by the students. Sometimes things are not done well, or don’t get done at all, but this is rare, as I am usually on top of everyone’s progress. However, it is better that students learn responsibility and consequences at this age than later. So even though it may seem easier to do it myself, the students are put in charge. The company has great pride in their work, since they have ownership in every aspect. I am proud to say that past students have gone on to careers in the theatre arts.

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

Valerie: Many years ago, I was a part of a local dinner theatre. We produced at least six shows a year, each show ran for four weekends. It was great fun, and everyone took turns acting and running tech. Since there were not enough males to cast “Scapino” I played one of the fathers as a mother. This particular character was fond of food, so I was padded up to look heavy. There is a scene where she is trying to ask about her son, and Scapino keeps avoiding her questions by continually feeding her spaghetti noodles (no sauce) so she cannot talk.  I did pretty good, not choking on the stuff night after night. However, one night, the spaghetti was slimy, mushy, and tasted so bad I had trouble swallowing it. I tried to signal to the actor playing Scapino that something was wrong and to not shove it into my mouth, but he thought my shocked facial reactions and avoidance tactics (turning my face away whenever the fork with the stuff came near me) were just new character bits, so he worked even harder to feed me. After all, the food was the only reason my character stopped talking. It is a miracle I did not throw up on stage.  Afterward, backstage I explained what a horrible ordeal the scene had been for me, and we discovered the prop person had used spaghetti from the weekend before, without thinking. Week old spaghetti that may, or may not have been refrigerated. I did not get sick and was able to continue, thank heavens, as we had two more performances that weekend.  It took me a long time to enjoy spaghetti again as a meal.

Ginny: What is your proudest accomplishment?

Valerie: Getting 13 nominations in 10 categories for the prestigious Cleveland Playhouse Square Dazzle Awards (regional high school Tony awards) for our production of Little Shop of Horrors last year. We took home the John and Patricia Chapman Best Supporting Actor Dazzle Award for our Dentist Orin. That night, performing on the Connor Palace Stage downtown Cleveland were 10 of my actors, who were a part of the Dazzle Awards ceremony, and the entire cast performed a number from the play as nominees for best musical. It was a glorious theatrical night.

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

 Valerie: My husband and I love to travel as well as camp. We use to own a tent and then a pop up trailer. We have been across the country several times as well as the gulf states. We also like staying in unique Bed and Breakfast or resorts, and have gone to Europe, and Mexico. We recently took a cruise ship to several islands of Hawaii. Next we plan to buy an RV to upgrade our camping experience, as well as head to Scotland and Ireland so I can check on my roots. When not traveling far, we can be found kayaking rivers and lakes. Our dog Barley loves kayaking, and sits on my husband’s front bow of his craft.

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

Valerie: While an acting intern with Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival (as it was once known) I worked daily with a new equity actor who had the job of overseeing us all. He went on to California to act in a new sitcom, and then he went on to great fame, his name: Tom Hanks. Yes, that is correct, I worked with him back in the late 70’s when we were both much younger.  He is a wonderful, funny guy. I cry every time he wins an Oscar.

Valerie has clearly mastered the art of storytelling, every answer made me want to learn more about her and the program she has built at Marion L. Steele High School. If you enjoyed Valerie’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.