When Worlds Collide... Education and Writing

As the school year approaches, I thought I would do something fun that crisscrossed my two professional worlds… teaching and writing. So, I interviewed teacher-author Sarah Thursby. Sarah and I have a lot in common. We are English educators, both writers, both mothers of young children, trying to balance the demands of life. While I am from Wisconsin, she is from Minnesota. I saw just one musical this summer (Hamilton!) and she saw FOUR, in New York no less! Today we are talking about how our education and writer lives intersect, overlap and enrich each other.

Word Nerd: Hi Sarah! Thanks for visiting my blog today and sharing your teaching and writing experiences with us. We'll start with a few easy questions! What grade levels and subjects do you teach?

ST: I teach 9-12 / Reading Foundations, English 10, American Literature, Intro to Theater and Theater Productions.

Word Nerd: What a line up! What are you most excited about for the school year?

ST: I'm most looking forward to getting involved in the extracurricular theater program and being able to make connections with my students during school by getting to know them after school. We are really going to be hitting accent work and nearly all students will have to try and understand and learn a unique accent. I'm incredibly excited to see them raise to the challenge.

Word Nerd: How do your teaching world and writing worlds overlap?

ST: In the district I’ve worked in for the past year, I have been hired to direct the high school musical and play each year! Very exciting, yet quite overwhelming.  Because I was willing to share my worries and proactively work to ensure success, my school sent my colleague and me to the Broadway Teachers Workshop in New York City! 

Word Nerd: Wow, that sounds amazing! I love the way that going to a conference or class can totally fuel my passion for teaching.

ST: Yeah, it was great! During this three-day event, I was able to attend masters classes with directors, actors, writers, musicians, stage managers, etc.  As if all of this wasn’t enough magic, I also got to attend FOUR Broadway performances: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anastasia, Dear Evan Hansen, and Come From Away.  

Word Nerd: I’m sure you were watching with a critical eye, trying to glean anything you could later relate to your students. What did you walk away with? (Besides several songs stuck in your head!)

ST:  Well, the first show was quite disappointing. There were several mistakes in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My students are putting on this show during the upcoming school year and I was thrilled to have the chance to see it live on Broadway, but unfortunately, it was a less than stellar performance.

The actor playing Willy was an understudy, and allowed his top hat to fall off.  Several times.  Every time his hat fell off, his microphone was inaudible.  The second time his hat fell to the stage, he didn’t even go to pick it up! Awkwardly, another cast member went behind him, picked it up, and placed it on his head! Then as Augustus was getting sucked up the tube of chocolate, we could hear the Oompas singing, and yet there was not an orange faced, green haired factory worker in sight!  As the cast members stood uncomfortably on stage peering into the wings, the audience began to mumble to their neighbors about the scene.  How could this be?  

Have no fear - a voice boomed over-head stating: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE ARE EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. WE WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY. Then, to make things worse, the cast began to talk to the audience…

“You guys are really lucky! You get to see that scene again.”

“Now you know the music. Wait until you see the Oompas!”

They completely broke character, chattered to the audience, and completely ruined the stage magic and illusion. It was awful.

I learned that even though Broadway is the Disney of live performances, people and technology are imperfect; it comes with these imperfections that we are given the opportunity to struggle together as one… both the actors and the audience. We are all relevant pieces to this puzzle of life.

Word Nerd: Yikes. So sorry to hear that. I'm glad you were able to pull something positive out of the poor performance. Tell us about the other shows.

ST: We saw three more shows that set our passions aflame.  Anastasia was utterly breathtaking with the dancing, costuming, acting, and singing.  If you haven’t seen it and love the SPECTACLE of a big show, this is the one for you.

Dear Evan Hansen is a fantastically modern tale of depression and loneliness where tragedy strikes.  Through tragedy and a little crude humor, these young high school students and their families find ways to bond together and heal issues that were never even spoken.

Finally, I want to promote one of the most noteworthy and beautiful productions I have ever seen in my life: Come From Away.  This TRUE STORY is a conglomeration of hundreds of hours of interviews with the locals in Newfoundland, Canada.  The day of 9/11, so many airplanes and passengers were routed out of the airspace immediately and directed to the small island.  With the island’s population doubling and then some, these rare and amazing Canadians bent over backwards to accommodate people from all around the world!  They literally gave the clothes off their backs, the food from their stores, and the beds and couches in their homes.  

To top all of this inspiring history, the cast (made up of only 12 members playing several roles each) contained two people from the small island of Newfoundland itself.  If you, like me, love a wonderfully told story, both effortless and seamless, as well as rarely distinctive music, this show is a must see on Broadway.

Word Nerd: Any final thoughts?

ST: All in all, I am so grateful for having been allowed this amazing trip.  I’ve learned more than I thought possible in a three day time span.  As a teacher especially, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to attend all of these shows, so I know how incredibly lucky I am. I'm really glad that I was able to combine two things I really love, theater and teaching. 

Word Nerd: I'm sure you can't wait to share your incredible experiences with your students! Some good, some, not-to-much... but either way, I’m certain it will enhance their education and only serve to make your rendition of Charlie simply scrumptious!! Thank you so much for visiting my blog today Sarah! Have a great school year!

Sarah's Bio

I have been a high school English and theater teacher all around the state of Minnesota for the past eight years, and I currently reside in Mankato with my husband and two little boys. Although I am an aspiring Young Adult novelist, my current and completed manuscript of an apocalyptic adventure is resting quietly on my hard drive. As this dream sits in wait, I am pleased to explore another dream of heading up musicals and plays, as this fall I am directing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Life is kind to those who persistently seek out their passions. You can contact Sarah via email here: sthursby@newulm.k12.mn.us.