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New Teacher, New Play, No Problem

In her first year, Sarah Bever offers new teaching style to Herndon High's drama department.

Sarah Bever has been a theater manager, acted and taught classes for various professional theater companies in Washington, D.C., studied Shakespeare at Cambridge and helped impoverished families and children in Kenya last summer.

But, she has never experienced anything like this — a high school drama department exploding with eager students constantly finding ways to express their "artistic flair."

"It's difficult because I have to transition into a mind set where there's 20,000 things going on at one time," said the George Mason University graduate.

"One reason why I wanted to be a theater teacher in the first place was to create a space where students can feel safe, be creative and be themselves," she said. "I really believe that I can have a positive influence on, and help develop, these students artistically."

As the new drama teacher, Bever filled the position left by former drama department director John Whapham, who moved back to his home state.

During his time with Herndon, Whapham was able to build the drama department into a successful program that remained competitive over the years.

"I went in with the attitude of I want to be respectful of what John had done before me," said Bever about her first few days.

But, Bever also came in showing her true colors, letting students know she was not Whapham.

"We'd been doing musicals for Cappies, so this is the first time we have done a fall play," said sophomore Tyler Andere, "Angel Eyes" in the school's fall play Wild Oats.

"While a lot of things are different," he said, "I am starting to like this year a little better than last year."

ONE DIFFERENCE this year is Bever's choice to have students perform Wild Oats, by James McLure, a western comedy with a Shakespearean theme, for the first play of the season.

"Mr. Whapham was more musically based," said junior Emma Jasper, or "Amelia" in the upcoming play. "Whereas Ms. Bever is more closely Shakespearean based."

Another difference is her push to get students involved in all genres of theater, classical, musical, contemporary and, as she puts it, "artsy-fartsy."

"I want to get them to think outside the box," she said, "and to be able to know who the classic playwrights are before they enter college."

In her almost two months at Herndon, Bever has had to balance her lesson plans and grading papers with her role as director for the upcoming major fall play, as well as guide her first-year drama students with an upcoming One Act play competition.

As of Oct. 28 — two weeks before the matinee performance of Wild Oats — things were, for the most part, on schedule with rehearsals, she said.

"She's much better staying on schedule," said Jasper. "A lot of people have been helping her, but we're really on track and, acting-wise, we have all our lines memorized."

One look into the rehearsal room or auditorium immediately after school may suggest a different story.

Dressed in everything from chaps, cowboy hats and "singing bar girl" attire to street clothes, students are constantly running in and out of the drama room.

Things become quiet only after Bever — who could pass as one of her students — indicates what she wants students to work on.

"First off, there's a world of differences between Bever and Whapham, but you also can't compare two directors," said senior Julian Karlen who worked closely with Whapham.

"Bever is straight play inclined," said Karlen who is acting and in charge of technical set up in Wild Oats. "She definitely knows what she's doing."

CAST AND CREW MEMBERS were scheduled to build the set Oct. 29 and spend the two-weeks before their first performance rehearsing on stage.

Up until the set was complete, students rehearsed in the drama room while also faking country western shoot outs instead of practicing lines.

Trying to stay on top of it all, Bever worked with one group at a time while asking other groups to work on specific scenes.

With the Nov. 12 Cappies matinee performance on their minds, the students have been diligent about getting things done, but without pressure from Bever.

"There has been no added pressure on the Cappies performance," said Jasper. "We want it to be our best show understandably because it's Cappies, but she hasn't added any pressure."

As a teacher, Bever said her goal is to help students focus on overall success and not winning awards.

"I'm kind of figuring out Cappies as we go along," she said. "To me, it's just as important that kids have a satisfying experience when we're doing a show, everything else is just icing on the cake."

And, as a first-year teacher balancing six classes of drama students at various levels, Bever is just trying to keep herself sane and organized.

"I love this job — it's hard and I am stressed out — but I love it," said Bever. "I want to be here for a long time."