WHILE ALL GOOD teachers strive to both instruct and inspire, theatre teachers are uniquely poised to ignite creative sparks, build a sense of family, and change lives. These individuals specialize in putting their students first — onstage, backstage, and in class. They show up early, stay late, applaud hardest and longest. In short, they live to see you and your fellow theatre students recognized for your hard work. At the end of the day, your success is the only award they need.

But let’s award them more anyway.

Each year, the Educational Theatre Association recognizes up to three individuals who have inspired their students and dedicated themselves to providing high quality theatre education. Only inducted Thespians or Junior Thespians may nominate an educator.

Read on for excerpts of what students wrote to nominate the 2019 winners, veteran theatre educators and EdTA members Richard Fairchild, Rebekah Hess, and Alissa Vogelgesang, then nominate the teacher who inspires you. Applications for the 2020 awards are due February 1.

Richard Fairchild
Photo of Richard Fairchild by Susan Doremus.


Arcadia High School, Thespian Troupe 320 (Phoenix, Arizona)

Nominator and Thespian Jamie Villarreal, emphasized how Mr. Fairchild:

  • Really listens to his students.
  • Teaches them “the true meaning of theatre.”
  • Models for them his dedication to the arts.

“Mr. Fairchild takes the time to understand his students. Not just by realizing how they learn, but also by connecting with them every day and asking them if they need help,” wrote Villarreal. “He has outstanding knowledge about how to get his students warmed up for a wonderful day of theatre, whether rehearsing in class or volunteering at neighborhood middle schools. He gained that knowledge by listening to his students and adjusting his teaching skills to meet their needs.

“Mr. Fairchild makes my day better by keeping everything real. He only speaks with authenticity, which makes me feel even more respected by him. The truths he tells can be as serious as feedback on a performance or as witty as facts on baby squids. Mr. Fairchild is always willing to answer anyone’s questions honestly and respectfully.

“Mr. Fairchild’s imagination inspires students to come up with their own brilliant ideas, eventually teaching them to share as well. Actors and crew have opportunities to experiment with the production, which ends up teaching them about trial and error. … Positive attitude and infinite effort, on and offstage, is what anyone would love to work with.

“He has remained a positive impact in my life by consistently reminding me to stay true to myself and others. Somehow, he is so determined that he silently expresses this to every single one of his students. Then, we all take after him, becoming overachievers. By simply being himself, Mr. Fairchild makes Arcadia’s theatre program stronger and stronger each year.”

Rebekah Hess
Photo of Rebekah Hess by Susan Doremus.


Rock Ridge Performing Arts, Thespian Troupe 8104 (Ashburn, Virginia)

Recent Thespian alum Shreya Muju nominated Ms. Hess, noting that she:

  • Shows a keen artistic eye and can “envision beyond the confines of the stage.”
  • Deeply respects the script. A former English teacher, Ms. Hess “comprehends every nuance in story.”
  • Gives generously of her time and talent. Trained in ballroom dance and ballet, she holds after-school dance technique classes free of charge.

“Ms. Hess pushes her students beyond what they deem themselves capable of and challenges them to rise above adversity with maturity and grace,” Muju wrote. “Students are motivated merely by watching Ms. Hess’ positive approach to every hardship or success that comes her way.

“Above all other meaningful qualities is the mutual trust between the students and Ms. Hess, which enables us to progress at an accelerated rate both individually and as a company — especially as we are motivated by the ambiance of positivity and camaraderie she creates and sustains through every production and throughout the program as a whole.

“To say Ms. Hess is the real-life incarnation of Wonder Woman would be an understatement. Her expertise extends itself into every facet of creating an outstanding production. Every performer, at some point, has doubted their abilities. Recently, I was going through a bout of self-doubt. … Ms. Hess gave me reassurance, not in the form of praise and kind words, but rather in illuminating the light I have within me. She told me I had two choices: give up or take the opportunity to grow. I chose the latter and am beyond grateful for that.”

Alissa Vogelgesang
Photo of Alissa Vogelgesang by Susan Doremus.


Carroll County High School, Thespian Troupe 8704 (Carrollton, Kentucky)

Recent Thespian alum Dallas Michael Blanton nominated Mrs. Vogelgesang based on how she:

  • Continually raises the bar and helps students “break barriers.”
  • Appreciates the challenges of being a teenager.
  • Creates a space for students to take creative risks while feeling safe physically and emotionally.

“[Our production of] Dracula challenged us with backstage tech, use of fake blood, scandal, and for the first time in a long time, a fully realized set,” Blanton wrote. “We built 10-foot walls and a chaise lounge. We have a pulley system rigged up so something may fall from the ceiling. This was unheard of before Mrs. V’s arrival. Now, we’re impressed with ourselves and the community is too.

“I want to be a writer and composer someday. Not only did she recommend writing programs and festivals to me, but she also tasked me with writing the musical score for our Dracula production. In less than a month, I wrote a full score for a full production. This is something I never would have dreamed of without her guidance. We all owe a lot to Mrs. V. — on and offstage — and, hopefully, this award can be our way of giving back to her.

“We have a saying in our theatre family: ‘break barriers.’ We all have barriers inside us, personal obstacles that can feel like mountains to climb, but Mrs. V. encourages us to break those barriers, to move into the uncomfortable, so that we may progress as human beings. What she inspires us to do goes beyond theatre. Yes, she encourages us to memorize lines and work through onstage combat, but more than this, she encourages us to further our own pursuits.

“We’re teenagers; we’re a hot mess. But Mrs. V. understands this and empathizes with all of us as she has gone through and continues to go through the same struggles as we do. She makes us feel human. … In her classroom, we have the Therapy Chair, as it is lovingly called. Whenever any of us are having a bad day or have something we need to get off our chest, we take to the Therapy Chair and talk to Mrs. V. about whatever has been bothering us.”

Has a theatre teacher made a difference in your life? Nominate them for EdTA’s Inspiring Theatre Educator Award.

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