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Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater

by Frances Betlyon
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Monday Sep 30, 2013
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Art truly knows no boundaries. And just like a rose can bloom in Spanish Harlem, an unassuming theatrical director can change the world of theatre in a Podunk highschool in the heart of Pennsylvania. "Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater" tells the compelling story of High School Theatre director, Lou Volpe, and his award winning drama company at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, PA. This one man transformed not only the lives of thousands of students, the cultural pulse of his town, and the reputation of his high school - Volpe also stretched the definition of amateur theatre for young actors around the globe.

This compelling tribute to one of those teachers we never forget is told by an adoring alumnus of Truman high who credits Volpe for encouraging him to write back when he was an awkward teen. Michael Sokolove, a New York Times Journalist, returns to his old high school to observe and capture the essence of this legendary teacher as he takes his final bow into retirement.

With easy, descriptive prose, Sokolove introduces Volpe and his students to the reader on the day of auditions for the fall play. True to form, Volpe has chosen a new edgy, controversial piece of contemporary theatre for the kids to chew on, one that no other High School has ever attempted, "Good Boys and True" by Roberto Aguierre-Sacasa. The play demands extreme professionalism, maturity and complete fearlessness from its actors - as it tackles issues like rape and homosexuality in a school setting. But Volpe’s actors are up for the challenge. In fact, they seem to effortlessly fall into his capable, loving hands as if to say, "Take us to the finish line! We trust you." This trust and complete respect go both ways with Lou and his students. It is the kind of relationship that the best teachers and mentors have with their followers, and it is what makes Volpe, a 40 year teaching veteran, such a worthy subject, and this book so inspirational to actors, teachers and students alike.

We become a part of the troupe, as we follow Volpe and his cast through trying rehearsals, peppered with drama at home and at work. Truman High is not located in the cultural mecca of America. Levittown, PA is like so many other small towns in our country, a forgotten steel mill community where no one dreams and very few manage to get out, let alone go to college. But over his 40 years of dedication to the performing arts, Volpe changed that town. Truman High is now one of the most famous performing arts high schools in the country, and when the school board has to make cuts here and there to get by, Volpe’s classes are the last to go.

It is no surprise that after a legacy like the one Lou built at Truman High, Broadway eventually caught wind. Musical Theatre International has collaborated with Volpe to create school editions of three of Broadway’s most adult smash hits: "Les Miserables," "Rent," and most recently, "Spring Awakening." The best producers and directors in the world have sat in the dated auditorium at Truman High and left inspired and challenged to raise their work to a new level of excellence. And now every high school in the country can follow suit and tackle these classics of American theatre.

But the true gift of this book is the example Mr. Volpe sets for the rest of us. The truth that if you believe in people and set an example of excellence, you will find yourself surrounded by excellent people who believe in you. Theatre is the most collaborative of art forms, it takes a village to create a show! But when one man sets a good example to another person, it spreads and creates a culture of goodness. This is why our teachers are so important. This is why we should value them more. This is why we should say thank you! And this is why you should read this book!

"Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater"
Michael Sokolove
Riverhead

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