David Berry has been a part of the Ensworth community for many years. Not only is he an English and theatre teacher at the high school, he has also been an Ensworth student. He learned to tie his shoes in Mrs. Hempel’s pre-1st class and took on some important acting roles in Mrs. Roberts’ fourth grade play. See what happened when we caught up with him for a little coffee talk.
Well, I first found my way into the theater as an injured athlete. After tearing a ligament in my ankle, I went to my first high school audition on crutches. I was lucky that my school had just finished building a wonderful new theater and was investing in making the arts a central part of school life. That ended up making a big difference for me, as it did for a lot of my classmates. We had an unusually talented group, and several of us went on to have careers in the professional theater.
Do you remember the first play you ever acted in and what your part was? How was that experience for you?
Rudolph in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Alvin from Alvin and the Chipmunks. In the fourth grade, Mrs. Roberts let us create our own shows and these were two of the skits we came up with. Looking back, two things really strike me as important. First, is the fact that she allowed us to really participate in creating the show, rather than just telling us what to do; second is the fact that, in addition to our peers and parents, we also had the chance to play in front of a “real” audience when we performed for the students at the Harris-Hillman school. I think that those two decisions really made all of the difference in the experience. While it wasn’t until high school that I realized I had a serious interest in the theatre, when I look back, I see that the seed was planted in fertile ground at Ensworth. So, thank you Mrs. Roberts!
Do you have a formula or way of choosing your plays every year?
There is not a set formula, but there are a lot of factors taken into consideration. First, we are a teaching theatre and a school, so it is important that our shows do more than just entertain; the theatre should be a safe place to have real—sometimes very serious–conversations. With that in mind, I look for shows that are going to challenge our students both as performers and as thinkers. That said, as a Pre-1st through 12th grade school, we have very diverse audiences to consider. We have performed an adaptation of the classic French children’s story, The Little Prince, which gave us a chance to offer something that was geared towards the younger students in our community. On the flip side of the coin, the production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible offered an experience tailored towards our high school audiences. Perhaps the most important consideration is the individual students in the program. Over the course of a student’s time at the high school, I try to make sure that they have the opportunity to experience a variety of genres, periods and playwrights—including Shakespeare. Ultimately, I try to pick shows that will push my current students, while also giving them the best chance to succeed.
What is the biggest challenge you face when dealing with high school students and the stage?
The biggest challenge is keeping up with my students. I have worked with talented professional actors across the country and the world, but the thing that you have to remember about student actors is that, while they may have less experience, they have the same tremendous potential. The greatest challenge about working with Ensworth students on stage is also the greatest joy, and that is that they often prove to be every bit as dedicated, inspiring and instructive as talented professionals.
If you could be a fly on the wall in any Ensworth Classroom which one would it be?