I knew I had to read Drama High after hearing my drama teacher friends and OKTC colleagues raving about it! The full title is Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater (excuse me while I shudder spelling it with an “er” instead of an “re” — what a snob I’ve become!), and it’s written by Michael Sokolove. Art Fidler was kind enough to loan me his copy!
Friday Night Lights meets Glee—the incredible and true story of an extraordinary drama teacher who has changed the lives of thousands of students and inspired a town.
Why would the multimillionaire producer of Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon take his limo from Manhattan to the struggling former steel town of Levittown, Pennsylvania, to see a high school production of Les Misérables? To see the show performed by the astoundingly successful theater company at Harry S Truman High School, run by its legendary director, Lou Volpe. Broadway turns to Truman High when trying out controversial shows like Rent and Spring Awakening before they move on to high school theater programs across the nation. Volpe’s students from this blue-collar town go on to become Emmy-winning producers, entertainment executives, newscasters, and community-theater founders. Michael Sokolove, a Levittown native and former student of Volpe’s, chronicles the drama director’s last school years and follows a group of student actors as they work through riveting dramas both on and off the stage. This is a story of an economically depressed but proud town finding hope in a gifted teacher and the magic of theater.
The book is fascinating — it’s not only a biography of Volpe himself, but of the town of Levittown and of its residents, spanning multiple generations. Learning more about how Volpe directs (as well as his colleagues) was really interesting, because I know what it’s like working with young actors (I mean, I do have an entire section of my website dedicated to just those people!). The story about how his cast of Spring Awakening screamed themselves hoarse after homecoming reminded me of how my senior cast members of Annie Warbucks wore themselves out before closing at a house party the night before (yes, I know about that).
This book should be required reading for any arts educator, no matter whether they work in a school or not! Volpe’s personal story is intriguing, but also inspirational. My favourite quote of his is something I try each day to inspire in my young actors:
“I’m not here to make you a great actor. That’s not my job. The reasons you should be taking this class are far more important than learning to act. I want you to gain confidence, learn something about life, grow up a little bit. I want to help you see who you are.”
You can buy Drama High on Amazon.com (not a sponsored link) or at your local bookstore!