Traci Davison is as kind as she is tenacious as she alone heads the theater department at North Gwinnett Middle School. With last year’s production of Peter Pan Jr. winning Outstanding Performance at the Junior Theater Festival, Davison demands that her students “trust that the director knows the strengths and direction of the show,” and she consistently delivers, giving students a space where they can grow as performers and young patrons of the arts.
As the numbers of rehearsals dwindle for the current production of The Little Mermaid Jr., which will be showing on November 9, 10, and 11 at the North Gwinnett Church, Davison is excited for the children to “show off what they’ve learned.” She believes in the strength of the director, saying, “I think it starts with the director’s passion. The director has to be intense and passionate and have tons of energy. If the director does not have those qualities, then the students are going to reflect in how the director performs.” Even when briefly studying her students, it’s clear that her students love her – they surround Davison with questions as she enters a room, and her classroom is filled with a collective energy that is almost tangible with its ferocity. Students work on costumes and practice their choreography for their show long after class has ended.
Davison makes sure to hone this energy. She tells me: “As a teacher, you need to allow [the students] to blossom with each class. Give them opportunities to strut their stuff – to show off a little bit. They feel – especially at middle school -they have to behave in a certain way that when they get into drama class, they feel comfortable, and their true selves will come out.”
As I interview Davison, I notice that every question I ask about her is deflected onto her students. She takes her responsibility as a director seriously, but she seems to find a greater importance in being a mentor and teacher to the young thespians at North Gwinnett. She emphasizes the importance of learning to speak publicly, saying that “everybody will need to speak in front of people throughout their lifetime whether you are the president of Avon or you’re a teacher, so they have to learn how to use their voice and how to learn to deliver the spoken word.” Seeing shy students blossom into performers, to her, is “really cool to see.”
I then ask her, “What is your favorite part about being a theater teacher?”
She’s thoughtful, but then she responds, smiling, “I think [my] favorite part is that I get to be on stage every day in the classroom. I get to perform each and every day.”
Teaching to Davison, it seems, is a performance in itself.
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