Families search areas for the “best” schools. One sign is a thriving arts program. Students who are well-rounded in arts, sports, and good academics make for great schools.
Two drama and theater teachers in the Chester area make parents happy every year as they move and shake their students at two area middle schools. Meet Dustin Allard from Carver Middle School and Martha Stanley from Davis Middle School.
George W. Carver Middle School – Dustin Allard
Dustin Allard is in his seventh year of teaching the theater and drama program at Carver Middle School. “I have a BFA in Theatre Education from VCU,” Allard shared. “I have my MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College.”
He said that much of his experience is still the good old-fashioned way: hard work. “Most of my training is still from raw experience on the job,” he said. “I’ve acted professionally both on stage and film.” He also currently works as a lighting and sound technician for a local theater in the Richmond area.
There are many rewards for middle-school teachers, seeing children form their true personalities and their character. Allard sees middle school as a time of discovery for drama and arts. Allard said passion takes hold in middle school and he loves to see that happen. “Hands down, seeing the passion take root in middle school is a great reward,” Allard said.
He is proud of how his students are taking to theater. “I’ve taught so many students and have the extreme pleasure of seeing them realize just how wonderful theater is as an art form,” Allard said. “They learn how theater has changed the world by influencing minds, and they see just how powerful a tool it is and just eat it up.”
Allard is proud to be a part of the theater department. “It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that I had a small part of cultivating that drive,” shared Allard. Carver Middle School will feature the Annie Jr. play this year. “We’re excited,” Allard said.
Allard feels this has been an amazing opportunity that he gets to work in the arts in school. Carver Middle School is currently working on fundraising to get some new LED lighting, and Allard’s next goal is to enhance the theater students’ technical skills.
Elizabeth Davis Middle School – Martha Stanley
Her walls are lined with skirts, jackets, boots, and every kind of costume. It’s like a huge warehouse of every possible costume one could need to put on a play.
Martha Stanley is small but mighty – she is a drama and theater powerhouse with 22 years’ experience, all in Chesterfield County. On one Friday afternoon when most teachers and students are rushing to leave and start their weekend, where is Stanley? She’s in her studio room giving students coaching and extra practice before tryouts begin shortly.
Stanley, with a Fine Arts degree from VCU, has honed her craft of teaching theater and feels that “life skills are taught right here.”
Potential thespians dance about Stanley’s studio practicing their lines and songs from the next production Shrek the Musical Jr. One of the potential Shrek cast members bellows, “You haven’t slain the dragon” and one answers, “It’s on my to-do list.” In the background, Stanley works from her podium playing songs from the play.
Stanley, while not a large woman, leads with a steel wand, directing her small cast of merry students. “My favorite part of teaching is lighting the fire of theater that lasts a lifetime,” Stanley shared.
She summed up her many years of experience and why it’s so important. “Theater plays a vital role in organically teaching life skills while still having fun,” Stanley explained. “I am so grateful that the Chester community and Elizabeth Davis Middle administration understand and support this concept!”
After long, dedicated hours with theatre in her blood, Stanley gave a few final pieces of advice to her aspiring artists. “Do not break yourselves; make sure you breathe!”