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School is open: Time to appreciate arts teachers

August 26, 2014

With Facebook feeds filling up with first-day-of-school kid photos and dorm shots—and with this being my first day of teaching as an adjunct at the University of Indianapolis—thoughts turn this morning to the arts teachers who had an impact on me.

I’m thinking of theater teacher Marie Iaconangelo (think Eve Arden), whose high school productions of “Cabaret” and “Oliver” were my first exposure to theater as an audience member. Later, she let me join her acting pool after a stage crew stint that included a door that was ripped off its hinges mid-scene in “Sweet Charity.” Memories flood.

I’m thinking of poet Elaine Terranova whose college writing workshops at Temple University invited me to experiment and who took every word I wrote seriously.

I’m thinking of Karin Stratton, who made a place for all of my children in productions at Pike High School and continues to amaze me with her enthusiasm, her guts, and her ability to make magic (This is a teacher who knocked out audiences with high school productions of “Dead Men Walking” and “The Color Purple.”)

And I’m thinking particularly of Betty Jackson King. Her corner music room at Wildwood High School was a haven for me even though I had zero musical talent for her to cultivate. She knew she was fighting an uphill battle with my classmates—and I’m sure she heard some sounds that made her cringe—but she always made me feel like a person in a world where music mattered.

It wasn’t until much later in life, long after Ms. King died, that I learned how wide her talents extended beyond the walls of our school. A composer, musician and arranger, she wrote three operas, served as a professor at Dillard University in New Orleans, and had her work recorded (including on a Deutsche Gramophone disc by opera great Kathleen Battle. More on this woman who still inspired me can be found here.

I hope I take some piece of Iaconangelo’s gumption, Terranova’s seriousness, Stratton’s energy, and King’s joy into everything I do.

And I hope you, too, have had such teachers in your life. Feel free to share thoughts of them here.

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