1997 Hall of Fame Recipients
At a point in her life when she had forty years of teaching theatre behind her and was about to be inducted into the EdTA Hall of Fame, Michelle Busti was looking forward to all that she had yet to learn and to share. “As I focus on my vision of the future,” she wrote in her application to the Hall of Fame committee, “my sights are set on my role in the wings, helping people communicate ideas and share emotions on the various stages of our world.”
With a bachelor’s degree in theatre from Siena Heights College in Adrian, Michigan, a master’s from Catholic University and hours of postgraduate work from six different universities, Ms. Busti was well-equipped to achieve her vision. Her own experience as a young theatre teacher in pursuit of theatrical knowledge inspired her to reach out to colleagues as well as students. She has written a technical theatre book, designed to assist theatre teachers in organizing backstage crews, which she markets through her own business.
At first challenged to keep up with trends in theatre, Ms. Busti worked to make theatre relevant to the students she taught. Besides the more standard theatre fare, she and her students at Cherry Creek Alternative High School in Denver staged well-received productions dealing with issues like AIDS, teen alcoholism, suicide, and pregnancy.
Students who have had difficulty in traditional schools come to the alternative school. One of Ms. Busti’s colleagues wrote: “Students who were frequently truant and greatly at risk of dropping out of school often found acceptance, encouragement and a connection to the school community through their inclusion in Michele’s theatre family.”
She served EdTA as a Thespian sponsor, state director, and board member. She was instrumental in the creation of Junior Thespians. She was also active with organizations promoting theatre in Colorado.
Close to retirement at the time of her induction, Ms. Busti reflected on her professional journey: “I am proud to say I have shared what I am and what I have learned with students, student teachers, and fellow teachers and directors. I’ll continue to mentor new theatre teachers and support the present ones. A forty-year passion cannot be retired.”
Paterson, New Jersey
Social issues are at the heart of George Dearani’s career in theatre education. Through twenty-five years as a teacher and theatre director in New Jersey, Mr. Dearani devoted himself to making his students and audiences aware of these issues and positive ways to deal with them. In his words, “theatre education has become, for me, a means to an end. It is the medium I choose, and foster in the classroom, which allows us—through improvisation, character analysis, and research—to better understand that which we are not.”
Mr. Dearani has tackled racial and gender bias, religious discrimination, AIDS awareness, and other sensitive subjects in his role as drama director and Thespian director at Rosa Parks School for Fine and Performing Arts in Paterson. The work is the focus of the theatre troupes he founded: the Positive Impact Ensemble, or PIE, and the Equity Ensemble.
He studied acting in New York while attending Seton Hall University. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he taught school during the day and studied and acted Off Broadway at night. He earned his master’s from Montclair State University even as he started the drama program at Passaic County College. As the first drama director at the newly opened Rosa Parks School, he was instrumental in arranging for the adoption of the school by Paper Mill Playhouse, inviting artists to lead master classes with his students. A colleague commented on the participation of several students in a Playhouse production: “Their joy of appearing in the show was only exceeded by George’s pride at their accomplishment.” Several of Mr. Dearani’s students have won awards and gone on to earn professional roles on stage and in film.
Mr. Dearani described the work of PIE, the accomplishments of which he said he is most proud, this way: “We demonstrate, through stereotyping and ethnic slurs, the pain and destruction that we as people are capable of doing. Hopefully, by having the audience confront the words and issues, and then afterward, discuss them, we can begin to focus on a change.”
As a teacher and director in Shorewood, Wisconsin, Barbara Gensler inspired her students to go beyond what is expected on the high school stage. “I hope that my productions serve as a model so that theatre educators do not limit their students,” she said.
Under Ms. Gensler’s guidance for forty-seven years, the Shorewood High School drama department staged five productions a year. She taught four classes, mentored student teachers, served on curriculum committees, worked for theatre advocacy, volunteered in the community, and directed at a community theatre. When the drama department went into the red while she was on sabbatical, she led the effort to erase the debt, and put the department on the road toward an improved facility. “Even without the facility,” she wrote, “quality theatre is possible for high school students; in fact, they may just blow you away.”
As much as a third of Shorewood’s school population will get involved with a production, estimated a parent who added, “Community members beyond the parents watch in awe as she takes standard scruffy high school kids and makes them do something great.”
A colleague wrote of her influence, “Students leave our theatre program with a repertoire of considerable theatre skill, but more importantly, they leave with pride and confidence in themselves, not just an occasional student or a theatre star, but many students, every year.”
Ms. Gensler received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s from Marquette University. She received awards from the governor of Wisconsin, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Kohl Foundation.
She took pride her life’s work. “This pride is not garnered from excellent productions,” she said. “This pride is instilled because I know that as theatre educators we teach a full gamut of life skills.”
Deb Holloway summed up her educational experience by relating a story about the cellist Pablo Casals, who—at age ninety—practiced for hours every day. Asked by a reporter why he practiced so methodically and religiously when all the world regarded him as the finest cellist ever, Casals replied, “I think I’m just about to get the hang of this.” After teaching theatre for twenty years, Holloway was thinking she was about to get the hang of it.
On the faculty at Lipscomb High School in Nashville, Tennessee at the time of her Hall of Fame induction, she taught theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, Atlanta, and Austin, Texas. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Freed-Hardeman College and a master’s from the University of Memphis. She served EdTA as a Thespian sponsor, area representative, regional director, trustee, and International Student Board liaison. In 1995, she co-founded Christian Theatre Educators, an organization whose name conveys the three things most important to her. “As a Christian teacher,” she wrote, “I see my job as a primary mission of mine.”
Ms. Holloway’s love for theatre and students is evident in recommendations to the Hall of Fame committee. “She always took care to point out something good from each rehearsal,” recalled a former student, “a task which, at times, I am sure proved difficult.” A colleague wrote of Holloway, “She has a rare talent for what I call the mother-leader syndrome that inspires students to great accomplishments.”
By getting students involved in theatre as participants or audience members, and by coordinating traveling productions to churches, elementary schools and hospitals, she expanded the influence of her own service: “My students continue giving to the community long after they have graduated from me,” she said. “They teach, they act, they minister, and they serve the community through their families, churches, and businesses.”
A colleague described Ron Nocks as a “tireless worker who has always given a hundred percent to his volunteer leadership and encourages others to give the same.”
A former state director, regional director, trustee, assistant international director, and international director of the Thespian Society, Mr. Nocks served on several EdTA/ITS committees and is credited with being a strong influence on the direction of the organization. “He was one of the first directors to challenge the board to think globally and to advocate theatre certification,” wrote a fellow EdTA leader.
While he taught at Westerville (Ohio) South High School he took productions to six consecutive Thespian Festivals. A former student recalled that Mr. Nocks did “very ambitious projects, but he always made sure that he had the ammunition and the horses to pull them off.” As a teacher, one of his great delights was teaching in the same community long enough to be able to teach the children of his former students, who came knowing that he expected the best of each and every one of them.
Mr. Nocks did not originally plan to be a teacher. He studied teaching while aspiring to a career in the professional theatre. “That is, until I walked into a classroom and taught a class,” he said. “It was like a revelation.” After glimpsing the impact he could have as a teacher, he never thought about professional theatre again. Retired for two years at the time of his Hall of Fame induction, Mr. Nocks looked back at his career. “Over the course of thirty-five years, I can’t tell you how many lives I’ve touched in a positive way, and so many have come back over the years to say thank you.”
Mr. Nocks sings professionally, and was a touring director and actor with Grandparents Living Theatre in Columbus after he was nominally retired. A colleague noted that he never really gave up teaching: “He is well on his way to helping create a positive image about how we can all grow older with thankfulness, grace, and awe at the richness of life.”