With three drama teachers in three months, a school fire in October 2002 and missed rehearsal time from the winter’s snowstorms, drama students at Park View High School have had a “rough year.”
One-third of students taking the four drama classes offered this year dropped out, while the students who remained began to have less faith in the drama department, said Leesburg resident Marina Politano, who in October switched from being a full-time English teacher to teaching four drama classes and one English class, along with directing the after-school theater program.
“It’s been a rough year,” Politano said, though the year was not rough enough for the students to start calling her “Polly.”
“When they come up with a nickname like that, it’s their seal of approval,” said David Arbogast, English department chairman at the Sterling Park school, a Cappies program participant for the past five years.
THE ROUGH YEAR really began last year when drama teacher Amy “A.J.” Greeley resigned after teaching for eight years and continued into the 2002-03 school year when Greeley’s replacement and the students “didn’t get along,” said Politano. To make matters worse, the department lost wood, supplies and furnishings in the basement fire and had to use show funds and donations to replace the staging supplies. In addition, the students missed several days of rehearsal time when school was canceled for snow in January and February.
With the delays caused from a change in teachers and missed school, the fall play opened the weekend of March 13-16 instead of in November. Students had not wanted to use any of the plays selected by the previous drama teacher, so they had to start over. Politano and the students selected “Don’t Drink the Water,” a comedy by Woody Allen, for the fall play and “Cinderella” for the spring musical, which will be showing the first weekend in May.
“The kids are working hard, and it’s starting to pay off,” Politano said about the students in the after-school drama program, most of whom have stayed despite the turmoil. “They make me smile. I can honestly say that [about] their personalities, energy, talent and dedication.”
Seventeen-year-old Amy Shields, a junior involved in drama since her freshman year, said when “Polly” started, she and the other students “just wanted to get through the year.” “She’s come in and has worked so well for us. She hasn’t been a substitute. She’s a replacement,” said Shields, one of more than 30 students involved in the after-school program.
Shields stuck with the program because it gives her a chance to be on stage. “There was nothing to keep me from doing something I love so much,” she said.
“She’s a fun teacher,” said Leigh Ferrer, a 16-year-old junior who also started taking drama classes during her freshman year. “She’s very lenient for most things, but when it’s time to get down to business, she can direct a crowd and get them all to attention.”
POLITANO, LIKE MANY of her students, took up an interest in drama during her freshman year in high school. The 25 year old knew she wanted to work in the drama field, but in her junior year, she realized she wanted to teach after working during the summers and school vacations as a teacher’s aide for her aunt, who is a fifth-grade teacher. When she graduated from Broad Run High School in 1995, she decided to attend Virginia Commonwealth University to study theater education.
In 2000, Politano earned her degree and was certified to teach English, which she did that year at Park View High School. In October 2002, she had a chance to teach what she desired, since replacing her as an English teacher was easier than trying to find a drama teacher.
In her new role, Politano wanted to encourage students to return to the drama program by making drama a “fun and worthwhile learning experience.” “That’s my main goal is to turn this into a fully functional drama department,” she said. “It’s functioning now, [but] I want to have funds, make money from the plays, so we can do bigger and better things.”
“We’re proud of Marina and the job she’s doing. She took over under difficult circumstance and has pulled things together,” Arbogast said. “I think she’s going to make a fabulous drama teacher because her heart’s in it.”
Politano said, “I like the creativity of drama because there’s so much you can do. … It’s like sports, everyone working together to make a final product. Whether it’s a game or a play, we can all work together to make a product we can be proud of.”
Politano said she likes working with students and the connections she makes with them. “The way they look at life is totally different,” she said. “This is their world. They want to stay later. I want to go home.”
That’s at 10 p.m. at the end of tech week rehearsals the week before a performance.