Virginia Beach, Virginia
Joe Burnsworth grew up in Fairmont, West Virginia, the birthplace of the International Thespian Society and its collegiate counterpart, Alpha Psi Omega, and studied in high school and college under founders Paul Opp and Harry Leeper. Yet the idea of career in theatre education did not immediately announce itself to him.
“My involvement in the arts began as a favor to a friend when we were in high school,” he told the Hall of Fame committee, and he entered Fairmont State College with the intention of becoming a political journalist. But his plans changed after a speech professor coerced him into a campus production of Our Town. “I quickly found a place where I felt at home,” Mr. Burnsworth wrote. “In just a few days my small commitment turned into an obsession.”
That obsession led him to a career with Virginia Beach public schools, first as a theatre teacher and then, beginning in 1994, as coordinator of the system’s program for gifted and talented arts students. It stayed with him as he sponsored an active Thespian troupe, directed numerous productions in academic and community theatre, held many leadership positions with EdTA including president, completed a master’s degree in gifted education from Norfolk State University, and served on various fronts as an advocate for school theatre. In his words, “There is no other discipline that offers more opportunity for students to shine. Students involved in theatre exhibit love for each other that has no bounds.”
One colleague said of Mr. Burnsworth, “His whole adult life has been dedicated to making young people grow, develop, and love the arts.” Another wrote, “Joe Burnsworth is one of those teachers that a student never forgets.”