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Community Connection: Art in Motion

February 23, 2010

Last week, I had the chance to speak with Nancy Schaeffer, Education Director at the Dallas Children’s Theater.  She generously set aside time for our interview; as you will see, this is one busy lady.

Tell us about your work at the Dallas Children’s Theater.

Nancy Schaeffer, Education Director at the Dallas Children's Theater

My primary responsibility is overseeing our academy.  We serve children ages 3 ½ to 18 with acting classes and our teen conservatory. During the school year, as many as 300 children come to single programs during a week, and close to 1,000 children attend programs per week during the summer.  We also have mini-sessions where students have multiple experiences over four weeks.  It is my job to hire teachers, oversee curriculum and performances, and talk to parents.  I also oversee a residency program in schools during the school day.   In the summer we have musical theater, video classes, improv classes for teens, and storytelling for the little ones. All of our programs end with a production of some sort.

I also read scripts and sit on a committee that puts together the season for the year.  I sit on various committees for outreach, and we work closely with the nearby Vickery Meadow neighborhood.

How did you come to be Education Director at the Dallas Children’s Theater?

I have been with the Theater since its first day.  My husband was the first official full-time employee.  I started as an actress in the first production: Babes in Toyland.  I’m now in my 26th season with the DCT.    There was no education staff in the beginning; I eventually moved into this position over time and created my job.

What is your most memorable moment from your time with the DCT?

Moving into this building seven years ago, on Valentine’s Day.  When we moved in, it was really hard, but it was really exciting. It was hard because the building was not completed when we moved in.  We received a certificate of occupancy at 4:30 in the afternoon and had a show at 7:30 that night.  We also had a site visit that weekend from the National Endowment for the Arts.  And we were doing a show at El Centro that weekend.  We had no heat in most of the building, and all of our stuff from the old building was packed onto a truck that was not unloaded for two weeks.  The whole process was really something to be a part of.

Which production are you most looking forward to, and why?

I direct main stage shows – usually three a year – which is not a part of my responsibilities as Education Director.  It’s a lot of work and a lot of extra time, but I love whatever project I get involved in.  I’m currently directing How I Became a Pirate.  It has huge scenery components, and those are always exciting for the audience but are very challenging for the director.  We do nine shows a week with professional actors, and so far everything has worked out.

One of the shows I’m directing next season is titled Don’t You Love Me?  It is for teens and is about dating violence.  We’ve done this production once before, and we don’t back off when we do a play like this for teens.  We lead discussions afterwards, and I saw the impact this show had on the audience.  I realized how prevalent this problem is and how important it is to do this work. It does take a chunk out of you, but I did enjoy it.

In the past, you’ve led trainings for our docents based on your expertise in movement and performance.  How do you connect your work with looking at works of art?

Theater as an art form uses more than one type of art, with scenery, dance, music, sound, and the visual. The visual is critical in a play. While I’m looking deeply at works of art in the museum, I absorb these wonderful images and feelings and emotions which can’t help but inform my work.  Working with docents, who are so smart and engaged and want to expand, made me want to find ways to connect more visually in my art and my way of working with children. I love doing it, and I feel like I’ve gotten so much out of the trainings.

We are so busy; taking a minute to stop and look, then think and connect and realize what kind of emotions you’re feeling is good for your soul. I have also made such a nice connection over the years with Gail Davitt, the Director of Education at the Dallas Museum of Art, through certain projects and meetings that we both attend.  I’m so glad the Museum is in our community for children to visit and explore and know it’s for them.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Learning Partnerships with the Community

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