Each year, theater and drama teachers bring new experiences to their students and audiences alike, sharing thrill and adventure through the arts. They showcase plays, develop love for the arts in students and many other life skills.
Meet two Chesterfield County teachers that bring their talents to two neighborhood middle schools with their own flair and commitment to theater and drama. Each is in her first year as a drama teacher in the area.
Falling Creek Middle School – Shelley Butela
Right now, Shelley Butela has her drama students working on dramatic writing. Some of the students made speeches on suicide and immigration; certainly these are important topics in everyday life. She tells them to enunciate and project. Shelley Butela talks with her hands as she repeats, “Speak loud, speak clear.”
This is Butela’s first year working at Falling Creek Middle School, and she’s pretty excited to be there. “We are currently working on starting a drama club here at the school,” she said. Butela splits her time between Falling Creek Middle School and Tomahawk Middle, so she keeps very busy.
Butela is not new to teaching; she previously taught fourth grade before becoming a drama and theater teacher. She has a fine arts degree in theater from San Francisco State and her Master’s with a teaching degree from Salem College.
Since the drama club hasn’t formed yet, Butela and the group will make a decision about their play in the spring and do it together. “I want my students to have input on the first play we do here,” she said. “The students, I want them to have as much say as possible in the creative process, so we haven’t set our play in stone yet.”
Butela smiles a lot as she works with the students and shares guidance on how to perform or make a dramatic reading stronger. “My reward is watching the transformation that students go through as they learn to harness their creativity,” she explained. “Drama challenges students to rethink their perceptions of the world around them; it challenges them to look within and fosters tolerance and empathy for others and for themselves personally.”
She feels they learn about more than just drama – they learn English and history and about life. “They learn about history and the cultural impact art can have on our world,” she shared. “Watching students as they explore their strengths and grow as creative individuals capable of expressing themselves is truly magical.”
Butela started acting at an early age. She believes in theater’s power. “I believe in the magic and power of theater. It’s vitally important, and research shows integrating drama and arts in public education is beneficial,” she said. “Drama provides an opportunity for students to think critically… and express themselves using their voice to speak out about what is important to them.”
Matoaca Middle School – Eden DiMarco
Eden DiMarco was a godsend for Matoaca Middle School when they were looking for a new drama teacher for their arts program. An administrator shared that they were delighted to have her there.
DiMarco has been teaching Theater Arts for six years now, and this is her first year teaching drama and theater at Matoaca Middle. “I have a Fine Arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University,” she shared. “I have participated in community theaters throughout Richmond as an actor, director, and in various design, technical, and support roles for more than 12 years.”
She and her students enjoy the magic of drama. They can be found in big circles dramatically portraying scenes from a reading. The students enjoy cutting up and laughing as they play out their scenes.
“I am so grateful to be in a position where I can support and encourage young people to be their best possible selves,” DiMarco said. “I am so thankful for this position to be a positive influence on my students as well as to learn and grow myself through interactions with them.
This year, Matoaca Middle will put on two plays. The first one, opening in December, called “Orange is the New Glass” by Tyler Dwiggins. The second show will be a musical opening in the spring, “Aladdin.”
DiMarco is a bubbly, energetic, and enthusiastic teacher who is happy to be in her new role. “The thing I most treasure is watching someone grow as a person,” she shared. “When you see a young person become more assured and confident in their unique self, it is a magical thing.”
She believes drama helps with life experiences. “Knowing they will carry the knowledge rooted within themselves for the rest of their lives,,” she emphasized. “that they can reach down and take hold of a strength that they have built for themselves through creative self-expression, is magical.”