Reversing roles: Ms. Newman goes from teacher to student

May 19, 2004, midnight | By Melanie Thompson | 19 years ago

Newman plans to take year off to return to Shakespeare's roots

Act 1: Kelly Newman is a tiny, golden-haired child already testing her acting prowess in her living-room production of The Frog Prince. Act 2: A college freshman, Newman takes her first steps into the bright stage lights at Catholic University. Act III: Newman combines her love of theatre and teaching as the drama instructor at Blair.

Now, as the climatic Act IV approaches, Newman is going on sabbatical from teaching to pursue a role she has always loved—being a student. "It's not something that just came out of the blue," she explains of her decision leave her job and attend the Shakespeare Institute in England for one year before returning to Blair. Despite her love for teaching, Newman wants a break to study costume design for Shakespearian productions.

Developing the character

Newman's first rendezvous with drama was when she directed her friends in backyard plays as a young girl. Once bitten with the theatrical bug, she directed a few productions during her high school years, which compelled her to try her hand at acting.

When she finally turned to drama, she played Anne Sullivan in her school's production of The Miracle Worker. By immersing herself in the role (she even learned some sign language for the part), Newman realized that the entire play was about education. The seeds for her love of teaching had been sown.

It was not until her freshman year in college that she became inspired to consider teaching as a career. A Shakespeare buff since age eight, Newman was eager to take a course on the playwright with a professor renowned for "really making [Shakespeare] come alive." The instructor's spirited teaching style fueled a sense of purpose within Newman.

"She was what made me think, `Now I want to teach in high school so I can get people interested in Shakespeare,'" Newman recalls. After college, Newman went to work at Takoma Park Middle School where she fell in love with the "multiculturalness" of the students. It seemed only fitting that she would later come to Blair.

The Montgomery Blair Players present…

Newman's face brightens as she thinks back on the fourteen plays that she has directed at Blair. "I love so many of them," she says fondly.

Her effect on Blair theater is apparent in each careful costume design, each performance given by the students, and the general magnificence of each production. John Kaluta, the stage crew manager who has worked closely with Newman, attributes her success to her "innate understanding of what she's doing."

"I've worked with a dozen different directors, and she's right at the top," Kaluta says.

In a job as dependent on cooperation as producing a high school play, says Kaluta, agreement between the adults who call the shots is crucial. "It's very seldom she says what I don't want," Kaluta attests. "When we disagree, she's open to other suggestions. She'll go with the flow instead of throwing a hissy fit."

Her theatrical prowess has enabled Newman to put together a handsome list of plays she's directed and produced.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream was the smoothest running. There was never a day I felt like I had a complete meltdown. I was also immensely proud of West Side Story – it was so emotional, and I thought the kids sold it beautifully," she says.

West Side Story may have been the play that touched the greatest amount of people, Newman speculates. "Teachers were coming up to me in tears after the teaser," she says.

The powerful effects of tragedies notwithstanding, Newman says she prefers doing comedies. "It's more challenging, and you need a light touch," she explains. "It's such a joy to make people laugh." She recalls how, after Sept. 11, 2001, she was fulfilled to "create this happy world" with Midsummer so that, for a few hours, people could leave their worries behind and laugh.

Kaluta sighs as he too reminisces of the work Newman has done. "We're going to miss her," he says. "I think she may like England too much."

Jillian Raye and David Minton of the Lumina Theatre in Silver Spring, who have worked with Newman on many projects, support her decision. "We think it's absolutely the right step for her, " Raye claims.

"She's really a person who was born in another era; she has this old world sensibility," David adds. "I think [England is] kind of her spiritual home," he says of her love of the old world.

Back in America, no one has been selected to take Newman's place as theatre teacher or director.

Role reversal

After seven years of being the woman behind the curtain, Newman will again be a student. "I love being a student," she proclaims. "I've been teaching for ten years, and I feel like I really need a break." She especially hopes to bring back more Shakespearian knowledge and appreciation to Blair.

What's in store for Acts 4 and 5? "Doctor Newman!" she exclaims hopefully, thinking of her future college degree. She lists the possible options on her fingers. "Maybe I'll be a published author… or, I could look toward teaching college," she ponders. Either way, "I'm still learning," she says, "and I make new discoveries all the time."

For Newman, the curtain isn't closing any time soon.

For more information about Kelly Newman, click here.

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Melanie Thompson. Melanie Thompson is currently a junior in CAP and a page editor on Silver Chips. She enjoys hot baths, appearing aside famous stars in movies, and watching Agent Vaughn on Alias. A little known fact about Melanie is that she is a huge fan of … More »

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