Personal & Professional Development…the Poppins Way!

Guest blog by Jennifer Simmons (aka Mrs. Brill)

What does professional development have to do with Mary Poppins?

Well, when you are a theatre teacher it has a lot to do with it! During the school year I teach theatre to middle school students.  Every day, I get to talk theatre with budding young actors, actresses, stage technicians, and playwrights.  I am teaching, coaching, and directing these students constantly.  At the school level, you often do literally everything for the show EXCEPT perform.  That’s where this summer’s production of Mary Poppins comes in to play (pardon the pun).

Jennifer Simmons in action
Jennifer rehearses for her role as Mrs. Brill, the housekeeper. Photo courtesy of Christy Shealy Mills.

Aside from directing many different productions for the school year, I am a mother and a wife.  Finding time to be able to do anything outside of my current obligations is often hard.   It had been a while since my last show (a couple of years, in fact) and I had gotten that “itch” again to perform.  I saw the auditions for Mary Poppins and was pleased to see that most of the rehearsal times and all the shows would be held during the summer months.

I actually hadn’t auditioned for anything since I officially started teaching two years ago.  Being back on that side of the casting table, so to speak, was a wonderful opportunity for me to remind myself of what my students go through.  While I am often discussing the mechanics and logistics of auditions, I had lost sight of the nerves and the butterflies that come from the unknown.

The rehearsal process has also yielded a great deal of self-reflection.  When you are the director, you are looking at the big picture – the overall story that you are telling.  However, as an actor, I had forgotten how much fun it can be to focus on a singular character arc.  Even when Mrs. Brill isn’t on stage, I find myself during the rehearsals wondering what it is that she would be doing at that moment during the show.  While I often have my students create a character profile and think about their character beyond the script, this process has sparked some new ideas and enthusiasm for how to tackle this topic in the classroom.

I’m also eager to be behind the scenes for the flying process.  I’ve never had the opportunity to be in a show where an actor has been flown, and so learning more about that process first-hand is exciting.

I cannot wait for this show to open.  The entire cast is incredibly talented.  (Side note:  It is a test of my acting for me to NOT break out into uproarious cheer after Ruth Ann McKee sings “Brimstone and Treacle”.)  Shannon Scruggs’ choreography and staging are excellent.  In fact, I dare you not to smile during “Step in Time.”  Bring your family and friends for a night of jolly good fun!