Park View High School student Heather Foard likes being at school late at night, going home and coming back for more. That's because her "school year revolves around drama," she said.
Last week, Heather put in several late nights to prepare for the Park View Drama Department's staging of "Fools," a play about a Russian village plagued with stupidity that Cappies students will review on Nov. 7 during the invited guest night. "It's more like a family in here. You can't not be friends because you're constantly with them," Heather said.
Things were not always so.
Last year, a new drama teacher and director replaced long-time teacher A.J. Greely who decided to pursue a different career. He lasted two months, so staff asked English teacher Marina Politano, or "Polly" as her students call her, to take over, since finding an English teacher is easier than finding a drama teacher, Politano said.
Politano had taught English at Park View since August 2000 after graduating with a bachelor of fine arts in theater education with certification to teach drama, English and public speaking. She graduated from Broad Run High School in 1995.
"It was a really hard transition, because the kids and new director didn't get along. They gave him a chance, but he wasn't cut out to teach high school drama," said Politano. "Connecting with them is important. It's a matter of getting along with them and accepting them for who they are."
POLITANO, a Leesburg resident and Loudoun County native, started teaching and directing the Park View drama students in November 2002.
"The beginning was kind of rocky because we didn't know how she was going to be. It was a big transition, but it was a good one," Heather said. "She's always there to give advice and to help. ... Polly is more of a friend than a teacher. We're so much like her. She's not just a director. I can talk to her about anything."
The students helped Politano select a new play for the fall 2002 season. The play and other plays the drama department worked on that year had to be "crammed together" in a shorter period of time, Politano said, adding that as a first-time drama teacher, she did not know what she was doing.
"This is the first year I've been here since the beginning. I'm a lot more organized and know what to do," said Politano, who has been involved in theater since high school and has knowledge in most aspects of the theater except for sound. "I've done all the parts of it, but I never orchestrated the whole thing. Last year, everything was done as I went along, and this year, I get to plan ahead," she said.
Some of that planning includes ordering scripts, designing sets and setting a rehearsal schedule for the plays and musicals. "I like the kids to be here and on time. I like to have everybody doing something at one time," Politano said. "I like to have everybody working. Whether it's painting or sweeping, there's something to be done."
POLITANO also likes to collaborate with the students on each play, letting them vote from a selection of plays and encouraging them to give their ideas on set designs, costumes and other aspects of theater. "It's easier to explain what you want when you create it together," she said. "They come up with great ideas, and I love their ideas."
"She definitely knows her drama. Things are good now," said Brian Heironimus, a 17-year-old senior in his fourth year of drama. "It was rough at first. After Polly became director and things settled down, that's when we started to really learn. ... Things are good now."
Brian is one of about 30 to 40 active members in the Drama Department. Politano teaches three drama classes and has 50 drama students, some of whom also participate in the plays.
"I think she's helped it recover from last year and she's helping it in the next couple of years to get a lot better. She brought the people back together and gave us hope for being able to pull off a production," said Jesse Wells, one of Park View's Cappies students, along with Caitlin Cooke, Lisa Gunderman and Amy Shields.