“I’m no actor,” English Department Chair Mark Luce said, referring to his cameo in the production, “But I thoroughly enjoy every minute of being on the stage with these kids.”
Luce portrays then-Governor of New York Teddy Roosevelt, who intervened in the dispute between newsboys and publisher Joseph Pulitzer in 1899. When he strides onstage with the waistcoat, wide-brimmed hat and bushy moustache, it won’t be Luce’s first time on the Raymond B. White stage.
“Several years ago, (Director of Theatre) Bob Kohler came to me and asked if I was interested in being in a musical,” he said. After singing a few bars as the narrator in “Into the Woods,” he passed the audition. “It was really fun, but it was also a lot more work than I thought it would be. The thing that surprised me so much was how quickly the kids welcomed me. Clearly, I was still the teacher, but I developed an entirely different sort of relationship with the students who were in the play.”
He followed that role with one in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which he got to act alongside his two sons, Miles, currently a junior, and Quinn, an eighth grader.
“That was really cool,” he recalled.
USING LESSONS FROM THE STAGE IN THE CLASSROOM
In all these roles, the teacher learned lessons he could take back into his classroom.
“Being able to see a different side of the students, to see how they balance their homework when they’re at rehearsal and to see talents you didn’t know they had and hear conversations you probably wouldn’t hear in class gave me a real insight into them. And I think, too, they see me in a different way.”
Luce dabbled in theatre in middle school (“In seventh grade I played Christopher Columbus in a very bad play called ‘Three Ships’ and I was in an even worse musical in eighth grade called ‘Teens.’ ”) His 25-year theatre drought ended at Barstow. In “Newsies,” he’s only on stage for about three minutes, but he loves every part of it.
“It’s fun to watch the show come along. At the start it was pretty rough, but you see the kids work at it and get better and better. And I see Josh (Markley) who is a new music teacher this year working with the kids and he’s spectacular. Bob and I have worked together for a long time and I think the world of him. I love watching him direct because I always learn things that I can then use in a classroom here.”
“When we read plays in my classes we always read them out loud because that’s what they’re meant to be. I am thoroughly convinced that students understand a text better when it’s read out loud. They can express themselves. They understand the characters more deeply,” he said.
Luce also teaches a writing course and a Modern American Drama course at the University of Kansas. He said his longtime love of drama is now enriched by a deeper understanding of the music, language and construction of plays.
PART OF AN ENSEMBLE
“Being on stage, experiencing the nerves and having this group come together to put on a show has made my teaching of drama significantly better. I see the seams and how plays are put together and I think that’s another good step. If you’re a teacher and you understand how something is constructed, you can share it with your students.”
Now in his seventeenth year at Barstow, Luce has had many roles outside the classroom: middle school basketball coach, track coach and the girls tennis team’s number one faculty fan.
"I try to take advantage of what I have here; a community of colleagues where people are excellent at their craft and constantly push themselves to be better and work together in fun and interesting ways,” he said. “And with the kids when I’m in a play, that’s a unique space. They see you can be an educator, and you can also be yourself.”