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An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

New theater teacher Willard directs fall play Circus Olympus

New+theater+teacher+Madeline+Willard+directs+a+scene+in+her+Theater+Fundamentals+class.
Meredith Bell
New theater teacher Madeline Willard directs a scene in her Theater Fundamentals class.

Following the legacy former drama teacher Lisa Willoughby left on the program, new drama teacher Madeline Willard is welcomed by the community and will direct “Circus Olympus,” a fall play that puts a twist on Greek mythology from both a humorous and educational perspective.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in arts of theater performance and a master’s degree in teaching at Winthrop University, Willard taught her first middle school theater class during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the semester, Willard struggled to engage her students because half of them attended virtually.

“I had 15 kids sitting in the room in front of me and 15 kids pretending that they were paying attention online,” Willard said. “I definitely hit several snags. You’re not allowed to have the online kids show the camera to the in-person kids; so, they weren’t interacting at all.”

In 2022, Willard moved to Georgia to teach high school. She teaches Theater Arts and Fundamentals, Acting I, Musical Theater and Tech II. Right away, she said she noticed a difference in high school students’ maturity.

“Teaching high school is definitely different from teaching middle school,” Willard said. “[Middle school students] are so chaotic, in comparison. It’s a different kind of chaos in high school, but high schoolers are so much more aware of themselves as people.”

Willard said she appreciates the mutual respect between teachers and their students at Midtown.

“As adults, sometimes we forget that students are people,” Willard said. “Here at Midtown, for a lot of the teachers that I’ve met, they all have that same understanding. I’ve worked with other teachers who were like, ‘No, they’re kids, sit down and shut up.’ There are things that they don’t know yet, and they’re still developing, and they are still a person who deserves respect.”

Freshman Lylah Schaefer is a student in one of Willard’s Theater Arts and Fundamentals classes. She said that Willard’s newness to the school is comforting for freshmen because she can relate to their experience.

“This is her first year, and this is my first year, too,” Schaefer said. “It feels like we’re kind of figuring things out together, and that’s very nice to have a teacher you can relate to.”

In addition to teaching theater classes, Willard will direct “Circus Olympus,” a play about Greek mythological figures joining the circus, in the fall. 

“‘Circus Olympus’ is about a circus troupe called the ‘Greek Geeks’ who travel around putting on performances of the Greek Myths,” Willard said. “They select who will be Zeus each night, and the chaos ensues from there as they tell as many Greek Myths as they can before the show has to end.” 

“Circus Olympus” will compete with other schools’ plays in the fall Region One-Act competition. Willard said she feels prepared to direct the one-act, but anticipates the process to have lots of moving parts.

“I feel great about directing [Circus Olympus], but I’ve never done the One-Act competition,” Willard said. “Making sure that everything is organized, ready to go, that we do well, and that I am meeting the criteria and representing the school well, that part makes me very nervous just because it’s something I haven’t done before.”

Willard wanted to direct a comical play that had a large cast to provide as many students as possible the opportunity to participate.

“I tend to enjoy working on comedic pieces more, so I started by looking at comedic one-act plays,” Willard said. “Then, I looked for a show with a pretty big cast. After reading a handful, I just kept thinking about this one. I tend to have a show in mind that I want to work on for a while and when the opportunity arises, I jump on it.”

Johnson said she is looking forward to Willard’s fresh directing style. 

“I think, especially in theater, it can sometimes get a little repetitive to work with the same director all of the time,” Johnson said. “Ms. Willard is the youngest director that I’ve worked with, so it’s all new. From everyone that I’ve talked with, the energy about her has been very energetic and exciting.”

Junior and drama student Caroline Connors said she is seeing improvements in the department with Willard’s leadership.

“It’s different from what we normally do because usually [drama teacher] Jacob Dreiling directs the one-act and Lisa Willoughby used to direct the full length,” Connors said. “But this year Ms. Willard is directing the one-act and Mr. Dreiling is directing the full-length. I am really excited to see what they both do with that new kind of thing.”

Students are excited about the new perspective Willard will offer the drama program, said senior Imani Johnson, who is president of the Midtown Drama Board.

“I’m excited for all of the things that she’s directing and working on this year,” Johnson said. “I have only ever worked with Mr. Dreiling and Ms. Willoughby; so, it’ll be so special to be able to work with a fresh pair of eyes. Plus, her choices for the season are very different from what I’ve worked on; so, I’m excited to have a new start in general.”

Willard said she aims to bring positive changes to the drama department.

“I want to spend the first semester acquainting myself with the traditions of our program and getting used to how things are done here,” Willard said. “I also want to put on two amazing shows. As the year goes on, I want to bring incremental changes to see how we can make things even better, though no specifics yet. I am really looking forward to building up the acting program, as well.”

While the drama department is a close-knit group, Johnson said Willard won’t have a problem fitting right in.

“I think Ms. Willard can bring a lot to Midtown,” Johnson said. “The choice to bring in a new teacher to a department that is already so close can be really difficult. However, Ms. Willard kind of just fits right in. I’m excited to enrich our department with something and someone new.”

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About the Contributors
Carys Brightwell, News Associate Managing Editor
Carys Brightwell is a junior and this is her third year writing for The Southerner. She is the secretary for Beta Club and is a part of the Latin Club, SGA, Book Club, Earth Club, First Century Leaders, and JSU. When she's not spending her time writing she's either with her friends, playing the bass, or sewing something new.
Meredith Bell, A&E Section Editor
Meredith is a junior and this is her third year writing for the Southerner. Outside of school, she runs the Midtown film discussion club and acts in theater productions.

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