Yes, this is a post about Maggie Ward, NDP’s drama coach for more than 30 years, but don’t expect something out of Glee. NDP is no William McKinley High School of TV fame (thankfully), and Maggie Ward is neither a Will Schuster-wanna-be, nor a diva in her own right. In fact, the only theatrics she puts up with are all on stage. And although she has directed more than 50 productions during her career at NDP, she dispassionately explains, “I’m a teacher who directs, not a director who teaches.” To her it is an important distinction. While she absolutely loves theatre, she harbors no secret ambition to make it on Broadway. Her true calling is to education and the stage is just another classroom. In addition to the 5 courses she teaches (two core English courses; a senior elective in Shakespearean drama; a freshman creative communications class; and one course in theatre), in her “spare” time Ms. Ward directs 3 full-blown stage productions a year. In the fall there is a big high school musical, in February there is a middle school musical, and in the spring she produces a non-musical play. While she has no formal training as a director, her keen intuition about human behavior and motivation, as well as her innate sense of timing, rhythm, and tempo hold her in good stead. And despite her reluctance to lay rightful claim to the title, over the years Ms. Ward has directed some spectacular productions at Notre Dame and elicited truly remarkable performances from her young actors. She has become a magician at conjuring up illusion on stage and a wizard at pulling together just the right merry band of talented stagehands to create those illusions including students, parents, and fellow teachers (see the November 14th post on the Engineering class’s contribution to this year’s production of Into the Woods). In particular, FOTA (Friends of the Arts), a parent run booster club, has become an invaluable asset and tremendous contributor to the success of NDP’s theatre program. As a result of this combined effort and dedication, each NDP production becomes a little more ambitious and the staging a little more dazzling. Ms. Ward has also overseen great technical improvements over the years including the addition of body mikes for the young performers, ensuring that their still developing voices will be heard in the back row. Her biggest dream right now is for the addition of a scene shop; someplace right offstage, where they can build their sets safely and conveniently. All this certainly conjures up images of the “smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd,” but you’d be mistaken if you think it is all about show business.
“It’s not about show business,” Ms. Ward confirmed. Though she is an expert at creating illusion, she has no illusions about what she is creating. So what is it about, then?
“It’s about community,” she testified. “These kids just like being together. They’re all on a journey of discovery and the theatre is a safe place to do that. No one is alone in theatre. It’s the most collaborative of arts. There are some super talented kids who we need for certain roles and some other kids who just need us. One way or another, we all need each other. We’re like a family.”
Indeed, after 30 years, Maggie Ward is like an unflappable mother hen who knows just how to reach each child and bring out her best. On the bulletin board just outside her office is a theatre poster with a quote from Hamlet, “We know what we are, but not what we may be.” Ms. Ward not only helps her students get to that unknown place, but get there with confidence. She calls it a “faith journey” for both of them. And after all the staging and set making and rehearsals, on opening night and for every performance, as the curtain rises, their collective faith takes a giant leap.
Yes, it is a journey of faith. It is a journey of hope. But most importantly, for Maggie Ward, it is a journey of love.