On June 11, Broadway will celebrate its players with the annual Tony Awards ceremony, but not all of the honorees will walk across the Radio City Music Hall stage to receive a statuette.
Betty Walpert, who has taught drama at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School in Augusta for 23 years, learned June 5 that she’d been named one of 20 honorable mentions for the annual Tony Award and Carnegie Mellon University’s Excellence in Theatre Education Awards.
“I was so excited,” Walpert said.
The top prize went to Rachel Harry of Hood River, Ore., but 20 teachers from across the country made an impression on the judges. Walpert said she’s been a director for as long as she can remember. Her early days included performances with her three sisters in their driveway.
“We had seats, showtime and refreshments,” she said. “One of my sisters would lip-sync a song with choreography, while another did a skating routine.”
She was part of The Augusta Players youth program and was among the first students at Westside High School to participate in drama.
“Ms. Williams was our English teacher, and we adored her. We had no drama at Westside,” she said.
But students persuaded Williams to teach a drama class and, while there were few students in the class, they wrote their own production of Persephone in Hades and put on a dinner theater performance.
Dinner theater has been in Walpert’s blood ever since. She got her bachelor’s degree in theater and later began working at Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre, where she met her husband, Steve Walpert, and Claude Astin, who served as a mentor for both Betty and Steve.
She’d worked part time at Davidson for a few years, but after the death of the drama teacher, then-principal Beverly Barnhart called Walpert about the job.
In 2012, she earned her master of theatre education from Florida State University. What she loves most about her job is her students.
“The kids are so wonderful. I love teenagers,” she said. “It’s such a critical age. My classroom is a safe place for them. There are borders, but they have the opportunity to be creative without persecution. They are not accused of being silly or stupid. They feel free to be expressive.”
Walpert said as she’s become more comfortable in her directing ability, she’s given her students more leeway in her productions. She often asks them for their input and ideas on shows, and they are often great ideas, she said.
While she’s thrilled about the recognition, Walpert hasn’t taken too much time to relish in it. School might be out for the summer, but she’s taking a group of students to Lincoln, Neb., where they have been invited to perform The Crucible at International Thespian Festival from June 19-24.
Before heading to Nebraska, the students will give a send-off performance of The Crucible at 7 p.m. Friday at Davidson. Tickets are $5.