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Ashland fine arts teacher proud of partnership with OSF

Betsy Bishop is a dedicated theater professional with more than three decades of devoted service to the Ashland School District, where she has quietly built an arts department that is the pride of the city.

I caught up with Bishop to chat about her history and the future of theater in Ashland schools.

JG: Betsy, tell us about your professional history and how you came to be a theater teacher at Ashland Schools.

BB: As a native New Yorker, I grew up enjoying Broadway shows.

I acted, sang and danced in over 60 plays and musicals, playing over 25 leads, all through elementary, high school and college. After three tours in Europe with Catholic University, I married a wonderful actor.

After working at Cleveland Playhouse, we moved to the west coast, and I decided that one of us needed a consistent paycheck. I had always loved being in school and teaching theater.

I taught in [Washington], D.C.; Cleveland, Ohio; Monrovia, California, outside of Los Angeles; and then for the last 31 years at the AHS.

In 1993, I was asked to direct theater at this wonderful school of so many talented and dedicated artists. [Oregon Shakespeare Festival] has been our school/business partner since then, and I am deeply grateful to Kirk Boyd, Pat Patton as our founding fathers, and Bill Rauch whose support we cherish.

My husband, Wes, three children and four grandchildren (three more on the way) are my purest joys.

A wonderful life so far!

JG: What you are personally proud of in your theater department?

BB: I am proud of the 26 year OSF Partnership and our community of talented mentors, some who have done over 30 shows with us, like Emily Ehrlich Inget, our costume designer.

These professional actors, directors, and designers helped develop the professional careers of so many AHS working artists such as Steffanie (Garrard) Leigh of Broadway; Shana Cooper, Broadway and regional director, Wade McCollum of Broadway, Reyna (O’Grady) de Courcy, Off Broadway, Chicago, TV; Josh Houghton, Chicago musical theatre actor, Sol Weisbard, International Lighting Designer; Aubyn Heglie, regional actor and so many more. I have seen all of their work on stage!

I am also proud of the honors and awards our theater and our students have earned over the years, especially taking a musical to state this year. And over 40 AHS technicians are currently working in theater, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well as other U.S. theaters.

JG: Why should students take theater classes and work on plays? What are the benefits to the community as a whole?

BB: Taking risks in class and performing for an audience teach students to trust their ideas and abilities. This confidence will apply to every aspect of their future.

Theater teaches imagination beyond technology and cellphones. It also teaches empathy and tolerance toward others, which our society needs. Theater teaches transferable skills of confidence, courage and commitment.

UCLA study concluded that students in the arts tend to have higher academic performance and better standardized test scores — nearly 100 points better on the SAT, according to a separate study by The College Board.

Doing a play requires students to follow a time line, to use self-discipline, and to accept feedback. Studying theater can be a great starting point for careers such as teaching, law, and politics, not to mention broadcasting and writing. And the ability to speak confidently in front of a group is a boon for any career. Finally, theater teaches critical 21st century life skills — collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Jeffrey Gillespie