How long have you been teaching? We’ve been in school for about five weeks, so about five weeks.

What influenced your decision to become a teacher? I’ve always considered being a teacher, I’ve taught in some capacity at any job that I’ve ever had, whether it be a trainer or creating documents to teach incoming people how to do the job that I was doing. I’ve always liked teaching, I just never thought it would appear in a formal capacity.

As an educator, do you feel hindered by the standards and expectations that your superiors have foist upon you? I don’t think I’ve been teaching long enough to really comment on this. The standards themselves that are presented by the state are a great framework for me to start with to know what my expectations are. I have a lot of knowledge that I can give, that I would want to share with people, but this gives me sort of a road map to get there. It’s like a road trip, I like to use that analogy. I know where we are and I know where we’re going, but I don’t want to get lost along the way. So having those checkpoints helps me to get where we’re going.

Overall, how do you feel in regard to the way that education is handled in this country? I knew coming into being a formal educator that our teachers are often underpaid and that the expectations that they have placed on them, by themselves, by their superiors, by the state, by the county; I knew there was a lot. I was unprepared for how many expectations there were. Especially in a program like the drama department. We have a lot of after school activities, we call it co-curricular. So what we teach in class is supplemented after school and that’s when we really get the most dedication out of students, the most learning happens after school. So those expectations, I wasn’t quite prepared for. There are times when we have several hundred students here with us after school doing seven different programs, and I didn’t realize what a time commitment and what an emotional dedication that was.

What is your philosophy on teaching? My philosophy on teaching is still in development. When I’ve been educating elsewhere I am really passionate about it because it excites me giving other people knowledge that I have excited and watching them get excited about it is why I do it. Professionally, I’ve worked in industry where people are afraid to share knowledge, they’re afraid to give up their secrets because it makes them think that they’ll become invaluable. I subscribe to the belief that the more I can share with people, the more that valuable they are and in turn, it will raise me up. If they hear about a job opportunity or something down the road, they’re going to say ‘Hey, I know somebody that’s really good at this,’ they’re going to give out my name. On top of that, as a team, it’s going to make us all stronger. I can’t do everything, so I’m going to need other people to do stuff as well.

What is your degree in? My degree is in [performing Arts], it’s a Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Performing Arts, emphasis in film, specialty in props. Where I’ve used that, I’ve come from Disney and Universal making props and puppets for them for the last five years.

Could you describe your experiences in theatre? I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Jim Henson Company, with Animax, with Michael Curry up in California. Michael Curry is the guy who did The Lion King on Broadway and a number of other things in the puppet world. That’s my passion, is puppets, ever since I was a little kid. I’ve gotten the chance to work on the new Harry Potter expansion at Universal. I’ve worked on the Dragons that are out there, I’ve worked on the Goblins, I’ve worked on things that were in the windows. Basically, if it moved or interacted with our guests, it was ours. The only time that we could ever work on stuff after it opened was at night. So it was a lot of late-night hours trying to make things ready for the morning. I’ve worked in cloth, silicone, fiberglass, all kinds of materials, that’s what I love.

What drew you into performing arts? As a kid, I loved animation. I did stop motion animation when I was about 8 years old I found a camera in a closet and figured out how to take six-still frames with it. I would stop motion animate all my action figures, that led me to film in college. I thought about doing computer animation for a long time, but I realized I wasn’t the type of person that could sit behind a desk; I really like using my hands. In high school I worked on cars a lot and that led me to learning how to weld, take things apart, put them back together. So between that and going to college for Film, I learned that I like to use my hands and that’s when I started experimenting with any material I could get my hands on and just creating things. That’s why I love puppetry; it uses all kinds of unconventional materials to create this object that can act. So that’s kind of what led me along the line, through props and puppetry I got opportunities to work on different shows and learn a lot that way.

What would be your advice to high school students aspiring to take on a career in the performing arts? [In terms of] the best advice I can give, there’s a few things, I suppose. The first is probably true for any industry; no job is below you. Never consider sweeping a floor or cleaning up to be lower than yourself. Often, the people that are going to give the hard work and dedication to clean up after all the fun is done are the ones that are going to go to the farthest. In the industry in general, make friends. They are going to be the ones that refer you when a new show comes on, when the one you were working on ended. Be valuable, so that you are well known in the industry. I’ve heard this industry called an incestuous little family; everybody knows everything and everyone that has ever worked on anything. So everybody knows everyone, and your reputation will either make you or break you. Lastly, from the people that are above you, the ones that have more experience. There’s a lot of downtime in Performing Arts. Times when it’s been ‘Hurry up, we need to get a show loaded. Okay, great. Now it’s loaded, now we’re sitting and waiting on something else.’ Use that time as an opportunity to learn something new and if you’re just getting into the industry, go volunteer your time. Go talk to the Local Union Hall, the local 361 is right here in Orlando, Florida. They can set you up as an apprentice or get you involved in something local to see if it’s something that you want to do.

By Richard Elkins

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence." -Christopher Hitchens

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