MAURA TOOLE shines onstage. Her favorite roles include the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, an ensemble member of 21 Chump Street (performed in 2018 at the International Thespian Festival as the North Carolina Chapter Select production), and Agnes in She Kills Monsters.

But this Thespian shines equally bright in offstage leadership roles. In 2020-21, Toole begins her third year on the board of Troupe 7993 and as a Student Thespian Officer for North Carolina (her second year as chair), in addition to a second term as an International Thespian Officer.

Outside of theatre, Toole founded both the Girls in STEM and philosophy club at her school. She also helped organize and lead the March for Our Lives event in Greensboro in 2018. She continues to work with them and with Moms Demand Action, and she mentors elementary students through Guilford County Schools.

When not in a theatre, Toole loves to be outside. “On a nice day, you’ll probably find me in a hammock reading a good book,” she said. “I also have a massive love for backpacking and am lucky to live close to the Appalachian Trail, where I spend part of my summers every year with my backpack and my friends.”

Toole develops her love for philosophy, political science, and public policy by working on political campaigns and advocating for arts education. But she always finds moments to indulge in chocolate ice cream and dance parties with family, and she plays a mean “Hey, Soul Sister” on the ukulele.

Maura Toole has held leadership positions at both the state and national level.
Maura Toole has held leadership positions at both the state and national level. Photo courtesy of Maura Toole.

When and how did you first become interested in theatre?
I was so lucky to attend the A+ Kids Theatre Camp at my school as an elementary and middle school student. The camp director, Mr. Selassie Amana — also my P.E. teacher and a former New York actor — directed junior musicals that we performed for our parents at the end of camp. This immersion into theatre as a very young person and ability to see my teacher’s obvious passion for it massively encouraged my love of performing. I have worked the last three summers as a counselor and assistant director at this camp in hopes of encouraging other young people to feel the same excitement I felt being onstage.

How did you become interested in becoming an International Thespian Officer?
Theatre and quality theatre education have always played a big role in shaping me into who I am becoming, and I have seen theatre shape castmates and friends since stepping onstage for the very first time. It is important to me to serve communities that have given me so much joy and taught me resilience, collaboration, and servant leadership. I was interested in becoming a Thespian officer for this reason: I wanted to give back to a community that had given me so much. In my time as an ITO, it has been incredibly encouraging to experience that Thespians all over the country and all over the world share my excitement about making quality theatre education accessible and engaging for every student.

What do you think makes a good leader?
To me, a great leader is always thinking about ways they can learn and grow and ways they can help others grow. They are unafraid to take risks and unafraid to fail. A great leader can demonstrate their passion through energy that encourages everyone around them to be the best versions of themselves. They are always willing to ask questions. And they are incredibly resilient and quick to recognize strengths in teammates and delegate. It has been amazing to identify and experience these qualities in students with whom I have interacted and worked as an ITO, and to whom I can look as examples for developing my leadership skills.

What do you look forward to in your second ITO term?
I hope to work with the International Thespian Student Leadership Council to evaluate the effectiveness of the student leadership resources developed [in 2020]. But I am most excited to work with STO and PTO boards to equip them to be political advocates in their chapters, as arts funding is in question in so many parts of the country right now as a result of the economic recession. My hope is that the new ITOs can teach a series of workshops with student leaders about arts legislation and how they can encourage other students in their chapters to take nonpartisan action in favor of arts education funding.

It would be incredible to work with chapters to assist students in working with their local and state legislators because grassroots movements like these are very effective right now and would give Thespians immense agency. I am excited that this can all be done virtually because there is no better time than now — when we are isolated and when public school programming may be in question — for students all over the country and all over the world to learn to be advocates.

As an ITO this coming year, I also hope to work with the board to digitize more leadership and advocacy resources, such as video workshops we would teach at chapter events this year.

What advice would you share with other Thespians?
As a theatre student and Thespian, there is always so much to learn, especially when we least expect there to be. Keep your eyes wide open and approach every opportunity as a way to soak it all in, to learn as much as you can, and to always be growing.

Maura Toole attended the 2019 Theatre Education Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.
Maura Toole attended the 2019 Theatre Education Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Maura Toole.
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