School's theater work gets national acclaim
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript
Page 1 Thursday, May 1, 2008
Thursday, May 1
NORTH ADAMS -- The district-wide theater program that debuted in the North Adams Public Schools this past September is already garnering national attention. Superintendent James E. Montepare will receive a national award in educational administration from the Educational Theatre Association, an international organization of theater teachers, in June during the Intentional Thespian Festival at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.
"I'm very honored and humbled by the award, but it's not about me," Montepare said Tuesday afternoon. "The theater program is really a collaborative effort of the school committee, the mayor, and the teaching staff. It's all about creating options for our students. We realize that one size doesn't fit all. We're very cognizant of that here."
For the last 20 years, the district's drama program had existed solely at Drury High School, under the auspices of the Drury Drama Team and courses taught by Len Radin. Radin, a local dentist who had volunteered his time over the years, was hired as the district's drama coordinator last June, when the program was expanded to include students at the elementary and middle schools.
Radin, who has served as the Massachusetts Chapter Thespian Director for EdTA for the last 11 years, nominated Montepare for the prestigious Educational Theatre Association National Administrators Award.
"I've been waiting for a response for almost 11 months," Radin said of the nomination. "I had been telling other state directors about what we were doing. They were impressed with my story of how a relatively small town, with limited resources, put a theater department in place."
He added, "I wrote up our story as part of the nomination. This is a big award, where some of the schools involved have 12 full-time teachers working in their theater departments and have full orchestras to accompany their musicals."
Mayor John Barrett III said the award recognizes Montepare's leadership and the uniqueness of the theater program.
"He's certainly been at the forefront of this program, which has moved forward under his leadership," Barrett said. "It's such an important component of our curriculum to offer as many types of programming as we can, because the more kids we reach, the more of an impact we have. A lot of kids are saved by our theater and music programs -- sometimes people think it's only sports programming that can do that."
The theater program produced "The Wizard of Oz" last fall, involving over 150 students from the district in every aspect of the musical's production from acting to building the set. The middle school program recently presented an abridged production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Main Street Stage and the elementary program is expected to host it's inaugural production of four mini-plays adapted from "Grimm's Fairy Tales" on May 30.
Many alumni of the Drury Drama Team have either gone on to work professionally in theater or have founded and work with community theater groups, Radin said. Locally, Mill City Productions, which recently took over a space at Western Gateway Heritage State Park, was founded by the program's alumni.
Radin said he is excited that Montepare was selected to receive the award. "I've been really happy to work under Jim for the last 20 years," he said. "He not only understands the importance of the arts, but he's really a nice person who is loved and respected by the students. You can see that he really cares about the students. He's had tremendous vision to set up a program like this."
Montepare is expected to receive the award this June, traveling to Lincoln with seven members of the Drury Drama Team who will participate in the Thespian Festival for the 15th consecutive year. The drama team is a member of the EdTA, which is the parent organization of Thespians -- the honor society of theater students.
"We're all very excited," Montepare said. "This award is evidence that we have a pretty unique program here."