The last thing high school drama teacher Timothy Willmot wants is to have the God attitude.
"There's a prevalent attitude in theater that whoever walks up here, 'I'm God.' That's not how I want to be to these people," said Willmot, second year teacher at Broad Run High School.
A year ago, the 38-year-old had made a career change from professional dancing and teaching massage therapy to adults to teaching high school students. Before the school year started, students came to his office with their hopes and concerns.
"I sat down and talked with students. I didn't intend to do that, but they were coming to me," Willmot said. "I was impressed that they could recognize the opportunity, 'If you're going to say anything, say it now.'"
"It was scary to get a new director," said 17-year-old Monica Dionysiou. She said she feared not liking Willmot after working with the previous drama teacher, who had been at the school for three years. "I wanted things the way they were," she said.
Willmot changed a few things right away, starting with cleaning up the theater classroom and removing the old prop sets and other clutter. "It's a multi-purpose room, so it takes a beating," he said, adding that a clean and organized environment "supports what you're going to do. ... When it's disorganized, it's chaos and disaster."
Another of Willmot's changes involved switching from an emphasis on comedies to including "heavy drama" in the theater department's performance schedule, as Monica described it. "It's good to get a feel for both sides," she said.
WILLMOT IS TEACHING four levels of drama classes to 110 students this year. His drama 1 class provides a basic overview of theater, including acting, improvisations and the history of theater. Drama 2 focuses on technical theater, while Dramas 3 and 4, which are combined into one class this year, include material on advanced directing and acting. After school, Willmot works with the casts for the fall and spring shows produced by the students in the theater department.
"It was easy for me. I didn't have any expectations," Willmot said about taking over as drama teacher and head of the theater department. "This is what we're doing, and it worked out."
Fifteen-year-old Allie Pristas agreed. "He didn't treat it like it was something new and different. He treated it like it was something he had been doing for a long time," she said.
Students in the combined advanced class said Willmot willingly collaborates with them, letting them choose some of their assignments. At the same time, he is "stern" and makes sure they finish their work, they said.
"It's important to have an attitude where the kids decide together as a group, yet the teacher is always there to help and guide them through what he thinks is best for the group," said Rayvonne Juarez, 16.
For Kevin Hasser, 18, he does not want to be allowed too much creative freedom without teacher input. "When you don't get professional input, it can get disorganized," he said.
ANOTHER STUDENT said he likes having a teacher to guide and shape student ideas, offering advice on what does and does not work. "We're still students. We still want that person to depend on," said Eric Glueckert, 18. "We're not exactly experts ourselves."
Eric said Willmot keeps students "down to earth." "When push comes to shove, he pushes back. We'll go off on tangents, then he'll reel us back in. ... With his structure, it's much more defined this year."
Willmot said he'll let the students run with tangents for a short while. "When there's work to be done, you have to push it aside," he said.
During practice and rehearsal, Willmot avoids directing every move students make and what they say in their character roles. "I'm interested in finding out what it feels like for you as the character up there. You give me material to work with," he said to the 11 students in the advanced class.
Fifteen-year-old Sharrice Abney knows that as soon as she feels
what the character feels, she is acting.
At that point, Adriane Wilson, 17, said she gets goose bumps and her heart pounds. "It is so much fun being like someone else, singing your heart out to people as hard as you can and as loud as you can," she said.
"Everybody in the theater department shares the love of theater. They love that adrenaline of being on stage," Allie said.