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Leading from behind the scenes

Betsy Bishop still feels it — the magic, the buzz, the thrill. For her, the grind of teaching and sitting through countless auditions, rehearsals and plays almost every day for 28 years hasn’t diminished the allure of the stage. In some ways, in fact, time has only broadened the spotlight.

“I know people would laugh at me, but even after all these shows I see every single show," she says. " ... I still feel that I’m vicariously on stage with them, and I get excited. When show starts, I’m like, ‘OK, it’s going to happen,’ watching every moment. I love it. It’s a fun addiction, let’s put it that way.”

Bishop has managed to turn that fun addiction into a sterling career at Ashland High School and in September she’ll be inducted into the Educational Theatre Association Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the EdTA National Conference in Las Vegas. She’ll also receive the Inspirational Theatre Educator Award at the same ceremony.

Bishop, 63, learned of the honor during the Oregon Thespians State Festival in Salem April 2, although she tried to keep it under wraps because she didn’t want to siphon attention away from her students, who were there to perform, among other things, the festival-opener, “Radium Girls.”

The latest awards are only the latest in a long list that takes up a big chunk on Bishop’s resume. She won the Outstanding Community Spirit award from the Oregon Thespian Board in 2015, helped AHS take the EdTA’s Outstanding School Theatre Award in 2013, won the Melba Day Sparks Award for outstanding theater teacher in Oregon in 2010 and the Southern Oregon Arts Teacher of the Year award in 2000. Also, Bishop’s AHS troupe No. 4630 has been named an honor thespian troupe 10 years in a row starting in 2006 and has been chosen eight times to perform a main stage show at the state festival.

Bishop was nominated for the inspirational theater educator award by AHS senior Christine Impara, the president of the Drama Club who has already been accepted at Willamette University, Bennington College and Loyola Marymount University. Whichever school she chooses, Impara plans to study theater there and counts Bishop as one of the main reasons why.

“(Bishop) pushes the limits of what high school theater can be,” Impara wrote to EdTA. “... One of the colleges I’m applying to asked me to list three heroes of mine. I wrote down: Meryl Streep, a runner and Betsy Bishop.”

Dozens of Bishop’s former students, like Impara, were inspired to turn their favorite high school class into a major part of their daily life. Shana Cooper is a director and playwright for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Steffanie Leigh (formerly Steffi Garrard) played Mary Poppins on Broadway. Wade McCollum directed “Wicked” on Broadway. Jackson Rowe is a director for the NBC television series “Grimm.” The list goes on and on and includes an army of singers, dancers and teachers, and even a lighting designer in New York City (Sol Weisbard).

“During my time at AHS,” Leigh wrote in a letter to the EdTA selection committee, “Betsy was teaching classes, running the Drama Club, fundraising, producing our never-ending list of shows, chaperoning, coaching, directing, advising and listening. She was always there for us.”

Besides her sphere of influence, Bishop also helped negotiate the partnership between Ashland High School and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a connection which began in 1993, when she took over as the school’s theater producer and director of theater.

The first product of that partnership was “A Company of Wayward Saints,” directed by OSF’s Kirk Boyd, and it has since produced two to three shows a school year, including this year’s acclaimed state festival opener, “Radium Girls.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.

Betsy Bishop, here leading an acting exercise for Ashland High School theater arts students, has earned national recognition for her work. Mail Tribune/Denise Baratta