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Community Spotlight: Rebecca Rajswasser

By Ginny Butsch posted 01-17-2017 12:59


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 Rebecca Rajswasser, the theatre teacher and troupe director at Forest High School in Ocala, Florida, home to Troupe 3069. Rebecca is pretty new to teaching theatre, but jumped into the Community right away to seek advice and help others.


Ginny: What kind of training/education did it take to get you to the job you have today?


Rebecca: While I do have experience in theatre from my high school and college days, believe it or not, I do not have a degree in theatre. I was offered this position because my principal knew I had an interest and had assisted with the musical that spring. My certification in English made me eligible for the job.


Ginny: In a past post, you mentioned that interest in your program had doubled over the last year! How did you do it?


Rebecca: I think it was about really courting the 8th graders last year and letting them know this was an option. I also increased the number of performances, and tried to do more outreach to the student body. Faculty have become interested because the quality of the shows has improved. I also did a great deal of outreach to other schools, the local college, and our local civic theatre. I made sure to go see their shows and introduce myself to people. I'm famous in the town for my intro, "Hi! I'm the theatre teacher at Forest. It's so nice to meet you! Do you happen to have a ..."


Ginny: Why do you believe theatre is important?


Rebecca: I think theatre is important for different people and at different stages of life, for different reasons. For me, theatre helps keep me humble. Working with other people, and AS other people, keeps me aware of my humanity, and helps me learn more about myself and others. I'm exposed to so many ways to be and to be with others. I learn more about how to be me every day. For my students, this is also true, but I think a far more important result of theatre participation at this age is that they learn what they are capable of. Those special moments when students realize they are valuable, they have something to offer. When they come out of their shells and realize we need them and they are "a part of it," is priceless. 


Ginny: What inspired you to become a teacher?


Rebecca: I'm a sucker for that look on a face when the person behind it "gets it," whatever "it" is.


Ginny: What advice do you have for new theatre teachers?


Rebecca: As a new theatre teacher myself, I have to say the most priceless things have been asking for help, trusting myself and my kids, and knowing that this is a process. Breathe!


Ginny: As a new theatre teacher yourself, what could you use the most help with?


Rebecca: Honestly, the two hardest things for me are set construction and show choice.


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


Rebecca: I arrive at school at 7:45 and proceed to answer email, finalize preparations for the day, attend parent conferences or staff meetings, and all kinds of other tasks. I spend at least one morning a week with the bookkeeper, if not more. Students start coming into the room around 8:30 for an 8:45 class start. My first class of the day is English III Honors, which is a new prep for me, so, if I'm lucky, I'm a few days ahead of the kids. Then we have our homeroom/study hall period where I am catching up on tasks, tutoring kids from my other classes, organizing club materials and activities, and keeping my homeroom kids working on academic tasks. Sometimes I get to go to the bathroom. The second block of the day is my Acting I block. Right now, my kids are working on theatre history projects. Then I have a 25 minute lunch break before my third block. I alternate days between Intro to Drama and my Acting II-III class. ​We start auditions for our Spring show today (Jan. 12), so I'm back to rehearsals from 3-5, back to my classroom by 5:30 or 6:30, and working on lesson plans until 6:30 or 7:30. Then it's home, grading papers, prepping for the next day’s rehearsals, shopping for set and costume materials, my tv obsession, and well-needed sleep.


Ginny: What is the resource you most recommend to other teachers?


Rebecca: Beyond my students and their parents, the most important resources I have are my peers. I am constantly reaching out to the other theatre teachers in my district and on the forum, as well as the theatre professionals at our local Civic theatre. There is no way I could have done any of this without them.


Ginny: What is your favorite musical (or play)? What makes it so special?


Rebecca: I'm still in love with The Fantastiks. I guess it’s my guilty pleasure. It's so sweet and simple. I don’t think I want to see a hundred productions of it, but it will always be special to me. I'm also a sucker for anything Neil Simon, and anything Sondheim. I guess I’m a true child of the 80’s.


Ginny: What was the first play you ever saw?


Rebecca: The first one I remember is Annie, on Broadway, when I was 10. Andrea McArdle was Annie. I waltzed home with an image of myself in a red dress with big orange curls. I can still hear Sarah Jessica Parker saying, "Oh my goodness, oh my goodness."


Ginny: What playwright would you love to have lunch with? Tell us a question you’d ask them.


Rebeca: Wow. I have no idea how to answer this one. I’m feeling all political these days, so maybe Ntozake Shange, or Lorraine Hansberry? They both seemed to be able to identify mindsets that were holding us back. I’d ask them what they see in the American Psyche today that needs adjustment. I would also LOVE to sit down with David Lindsey Abaire and ask if he remembers taking classes with me at Sarah Lawrence College.


Ginny: What is your “dream” show? The one that you would love to direct at your school if there weren’t any obstacles?


Rebecca: I’m sure there are many, but right now I really wanted to do Crimes of the Heart this spring, but it’s just not within our current wheelhouse, and with all the sharing of space that happens in our auditorium, working with a set that intense just isn’t a possibility.


Ginny: What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve ever had to manage?


Rebecca: This fall we did Little Shop as our fall production. It was my first musical at the school, and the first time I’d had to collaborate with someone so completely. Neither of us had ever done this in a school environment, with all of our other responsibilities. I was not prepared for the impact of musical underscoring on the blocking, and we had very different visions and ways of working and processing. We figured it out and the show was a success, but it was quite difficult.


I think other difficulties have been dealing with childrens’ other responsibilities and appointments, as well as having to build all of my sets as modular units so I can take them up and down for all the other concerts and assemblies and such that take place on the stage.


Ginny: Everyone has at least one good theatre story. Tell us yours!


Rebecca: It’s not a stunning story by any means, but during our opening night performance of Little Shop, when Mushnik bent down to investigate the blood spots on the floor, I could see his shirt tail or something coming out of his zipper area. I talked to the costumers after the show and they said they had plans to come in early for call and sew up the rip. I thought nothing of it, thinking it was a small rip. They came to me at 4:00 the next day with a sewing machine and the pants – torn from stem to stern. There was no repairing this mess, especially with a new-fangled sewing machine none of us knew how to thread. I couldn’t find a needle anywhere. Luckily, Mushnik had already told his mom and she’d gone out and bought him a pair of pants. Mom to the rescue!


That night, Seymour fell back stage and tore a hole in the knee of his khakis. I didn’t even bother. I went straight to Wal-Mart after the show.


Ginny: Tell us about a student that you’ll always remember and why.


Rebecca: I had a student in the Intro to Drama class last fall who came to me absolutely terrified after the first class. He could barely talk to me, he was so nervous. I suggested he give it a try, that this might be a great way for him to gain a little confidence. Needless to stay, he stuck around, and found his voice. He signed up to tech the spring show, and became part of our family. When one of our actors fell ill and wasn’t sure if he could make it closing night, this student went home, learned the lines, and was ready to understudy. When he wound up not needing to go on, he said, “Well, I’m ready. Can I be in the Mother’s Day show?” And he was. He did a wonderful job, and earned multiple awards at our awards ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, he announced that he and his family would be moving out of state. Within days of school opening in his new area, he emailed to let us know he had already joined the drama club and was already making friends. He’s participated in all their shows, and even has a girlfriend. Those are the moments, right there, that make the long hours and new ulcers worth it.


Ginny: Tell us about the moment that made you decide to get involved in theatre.


Rebecca: I wish I could remember. I don’t think it was ever a choice. I was the baby of a very dramatic family. I was always performing. I think it was inevitable.


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


Rebecca: I haven’t had to deal with much stage food. I can tell you that gluten free biscotti is like sand and it can be very difficult to get your lines out with particles of biscotti crumbs floating around. I couldn’t wait for my scene partner to pour the tea.


Ginny: Name something on your bucket list.


Rebecca: Hot air balloon. Also, learning to hit a softball.


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


Rebecca: Oh my lord, I ask myself this daily and always get a different answer. If retirement and health insurance and like, having enough money to live on didn’t matter, I think I’d like to run an herbal tea shop with a little performance and meeting space in the back and staff it with disenfranchised youth and their parents.


Ginny: What is your proudest accomplishment?


Rebecca: I am really proud of last year’s production of Almost, Maine. It was my first show, and the first show for many of the cast members. We did a wonderful job, won a superior for our One Act version at the District XII festival, and gained the respect of our school and community. It was a beautiful experience all around.


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


Rebecca: When my ankles will let me, I enjoy kickboxing and other exercise. I also enjoy the occasional foray into simple knitting projects and can be found nerding out on logic puzzles.


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


Rebecca: I completed three semesters of theatre courses at Sarah Lawrence College, but then I decided theatre was wasteful and I had to save the planet from our environmental hazards. I left to obtain a degree in Environmental Studies, which has proved less useful than the degree in Liberal Arts I would have gotten from SLC. I eventually went back to school for a Master’s in Elementary Ed. Now I teach High School English and Theatre. It’s been a long and winding road for this dilettante!


Ginny: What is your favorite part of the day?


Rebecca: In all honestly, I don’t have a favorite part of the day. There are a lot of sweet moments in my days, actually. I do enjoy that moment on Friday night when I remember I don’t have a bedtime, and that moment on Saturday when I realize I can roll over and go back to sleep.


Ginny: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?


Rebecca: I would love a cottage in the south of France. I had the great fortune to spend a little over a year in Provence, and I absolutely loved it. The English countryside doesn’t look so bad, either.


Ginny: What toy do you most remember from your childhood?


Rebecca: I had this Wham-O Magic Window. It was a plexi-glass oval with pink and white sand in it, and you could turn it around and the sand would make different images. I finally found one in another teacher’s closet a few years ago. I keep it on my desk. It reminds me that there’s always something beautiful to look at, at sometimes we need to shift things around for a new perspective.


Rebecca’s enthusiasm for spreading the word about her theatre department around town is clearly paying off and giving her students exciting new opportunities. If you enjoyed Rebecca’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.