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SHEPHERDSVILLE - Middle schoolers can act theatrical at times. At Bullitt Lick Middle School, that’s actually encouraged.
Sixth grade Language Arts instructor Randi Skaggs implements her past theatre experience in the classroom.
Skaggs recently welcomed members of Louisville’s Actors Theatre for further knowledge thanks in part to a bus subsidy grant through the Student Matinees - Family Series program.
As both a former actor and language arts instructor, Skaggs applied for the Actors Theatre Bus Grant, assisting with the transportation of Bullitt Lick students to attend a matinee performance.
The sixth graders experienced “A Christmas Story” in person, seeing Ralphie and his family live on stage.
“I really wanted to take them to see a play in person,” said Skaggs. “My first play was in fifth grade. It was a big moment for me.”
Skaggs said the play was perfect for her students, tying in with a teaching unit, Embracing Heritage, where students focus on a snapshot of a different place and time.
To further enhance the students’ experience, Actors Theatre education director Dustin Morris visited the school prior to the play.
“Actors on stage are inspired by your attention and respect,” Morris told students.
Morris discussed topics relating to “A Christmas Story” while working with small groups to brainstorm story ideas that students later acted out in mini-plays.
“In this workshop we discussed exaggeration, like in the play,” Morris said. Students selected an individual’s favorite holiday memory and then exaggerated the story through their acting.
Morris talked about “A Christmas Story” with students, many of whom were already familiar with the movie.
“I thought (the play) was interesting because I saw the movie on TV a lot and it was really similar to the movie,” said student Nolan Creason.
To Be Or Not To Be
Following the play Skaggs offered students another treat: Actress Jessica Wortham, who portrayed Ralphie’s mother in the play, visited the school.
Skaggs and Wortham attended Centre College together, once acting together in a play as sisters.
A Louisville native, Wortham moved to New York to pursue her acting career. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Clint.
“I invited her here to talk about going to school in Kentucky, earning her college degree and living in New York City,” Skaggs said. “I wanted (students) to see that they could do it.”
Following her stint at Centre, Wortham attended graduate school at Brown University, where she earned a Masters Degree in Fine Arts.
Wortham has appeared in Actors Theatre productions including “Crime and Punishment”, “Dracula” and “Twelfth Night”. She has worked several Shakespeare Festival events around the country, including in Kentucky.
The local appearances at Actors Theatre give Wortham an excuse to return home and visit family and friends, as well as to inspire local students.
“I try to visit a school whenever I’m in Louisville,” she said. “The major difference in visiting BLMS versus a (Jefferson County) school was simply the size. The BLMS classrooms felt more intimate to me and it seems the class sizes are smaller, which is great for your student-teacher ratio.”
Wortham discussed her personal acting experience along with how the students could possibly pursue a similar career.
“Read, read, read - anything and everything,” she suggested. “Feed your imagination. A creative mind needs exposure, education and hard work. Be rigorous in your explorations and cultivate personal responsibility.”
“I liked what (Wortham) said because it gave me some evidence to decide if I want to be an actress,” said student Morgan McStoots. “I can know how fun it is and what I need to do.”
Students asked questions involving the play itself, wondering if Wortham dyed her hair or wore a wig, was the bar of soap in Ralphie’s mouth real, and was the man that she kissed in the play really her husband.
“I always enjoy questions that bring other aspects of the theatre besides acting in to play,” she said. “I love getting to talk about all the various aspects of the theatre.”
When asked her favorite part of the play, Wortham laughed and selected when the leg lamp arrives at Ralphie’s house.
“My character is absolutely horrifed by it,” she said.
“It inspired me to know that being in front of people can be a lot of fun instead of being serious,” said student Jenna Hardin. “(Wortham) is really funny and likes to hear what other people have to say about acting and how it can be a great experience.”
Other questions led to discussions about choreography, set design and understudies to take an actor’s place in case of illness. Wortham said sometimes other characters from the play will step into a role if it becomes necessary.
“That’s the thing about live theatre,” she said. “You have to think on the fly.”
“(Wortham) told me how great it is to be an actor,” said student Logan Baggett. “She said it was great for her and it made me want to do it.”
Acting Like a Teacher
Skaggs is a native of Upton in central Kentucky. She earned Theatre and French degrees at Centre College prior to pursuing her theatrical career for 12 years in New York City.
“I made no money but I did stuff on off-off-Broadway productions,” she said.
The first half of Skaggs’ New York years involved acting as well as writing and directing plays. The last six also involved marriage to husband David and teaching in New York City elementary schools.
“(David) encouraged me to get into teaching,” she said.
Skaggs lived in the city when the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center occurred. The experience aided in leaning her toward a teaching career.
“I had to leave on a ferry,” she recalled. “I couldn’t get back home for two weeks. I came back to my parents on a Greyhound bus.”
It was Skaggs’ daughter, Stella, that became the ultimate reason for the family’s move to Louisville three years ago.
“It takes a special person to be a parent in New York City,” she said. “I realized there was a much better quality of life here. Plus I already wanted to teach at a rural school setting. I always wanted to teach kids who were like me when I was growing up.”
Skaggs compromised with her New Jersey husband, moving to Louisville rather than Upton.
“I wanted to teach at a more rural school, and Bullitt County was suggested,” Skaggs said. “I did a job search and liked Bullitt Lick. The kids remind me of me. I just wanted to be a good influence on students with similar and common feelings.”
“(Skaggs) is an impassioned individual and doesn’t do anything halfway,” said Wortham. “When she sets her mind to a task, it will get accomplished. She wants nothing more than for her students to succeed and continue their educations beyond high school and go to college.”
All Bullitt County schools are eligible to apply for an Actors Theatre bus subsidy grant. For more information, or to request classroom workshops or scripts, call (502)594-1265 or email email@example.com.
To view upcoming matinee schedules visit www.actorstheatre.org.