The passion Peelee Clark brings to the stage at West Potomac is apparent in his students’ performances.
Gently pushing the envelope is what sets apart some teachers from others in education, and it placed West Potomac High School theater teacher Peelee Clark into the spotlight this year, earning him national recognition by The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA). To Clark, his teaching theme “Art That Matters” enhances student’s theatre experience and makes it an integral part of their high school career.
“My mission is to expose the students to shows that confront issues that they are facing as teenagers and young adults,” said Clark. “We’re confronting issues that these students face on a daily basis and hopefully these shows have our audiences talking about them.” For example, harassment is the latest issue he is spotlighting.
The spring play at West Potomac is “Spring Awakening,” where the storyline involves ignoring issues that are relevant, but Clark is using that as a message to the cast and audience that this is not the way to handle situations like this. “We can ignore the issues our youth are facing daily like they do in Spring Awakening, or we can support them and help them navigate through it in a way that only well-performed theatre can do; I choose the later,” he said.
West Potomac Principal Tangy Millard likes Clark’s passion when working with the theater classes. “He uses arts to highlight issues around the community,” she said. “The level of learning is beyond the average program.” On the West Potomac theater website, this warning is on the upcoming show announcement: “Important Note: Spring Awakening contains strong language and adult situations. It is intended for mature audiences only.”
That’s OK with Millard. “He will tackle shows like this that no other schools will touch,” she said. “It’s unimaginable that he pulls that off with the teenagers.”
EdTA recognizes individuals who have inspired their students and dedicated themselves to providing quality theatre education with the Inspirational Theatre Educator Award, according to information released with the award announcement. EdTA is a national nonprofit organization with approximately 125,000 student and professional members that supports and promotes school theatre. EdTA is the home of the International Thespian Society, an honor society for middle and high school theatre students, which has inducted more than 2.3 million members since 1929.
Clark found out he was up for the award during one of the dress rehearsals for “Jesus Christ Superstar” at West Potomac, but didn’t say anything because he was so busy with the play, and has had a history of not making a big deal about his achievements. It wasn’t until he posted his award on his Facebook page that he got recognized by his brother. His parents died in the 1990s and his brother mentioned how proud they would be. “But reading this message I broke down crying because you know what, they would be proud. Ever since that moment I’ve taken great honor in receiving this award,” he said.
The award ceremony will be next September in Denver, and he’s been to the Educational Theatre National Conference before but not as an awardee. This time he’ll be one of the honored guests.