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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Street Class: North Fort Thomas Avenue's Playwright

Tennessee Williams once said, "Yes, I have tricks in my pocket. I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." These words may ring true for many writers, but they are especially resonant for North Fort Thomas Avenue resident and playwright Teri Foltz. 

Many of our readers may be familiar with Foltz thanks to her time spent as a Drama and English teacher at Highlands High School. When Foltz wasn't busy educating the our town's youth, she could be found in the auditorium directing plays and musicals. Foltz has also made her mark in the area as a stand-up comedian. In fact, some of the play's dialogue came directly from her comedy routines. 

Foltz's play, The Faculty Lounge, was inspired her time working as a teacher. She taught at Bellevue High School before being employed at Highlands High School, and drew from experiences at both schools. "All of the stories in the play are based on incidents that involved me or my colleagues," said Foltz. "Of course, I dramatized them a bit, but they are all based in truth." While her classroom experiences helped inspire the story, her theater background was instrumental in crafting an engaging script. "My experience with theater, both at Highlands and with Community theater helped me understand what a play must do to draw in an audience," said Foltz. 

The Faculty Lounge centers around a group of high school teachers, and gives us an unfiltered insight into the lives of our educators. "The play is about 5 high school teachers who speak their minds in the faculty lounge of their school. Through their dialogue, the audience learns how human they are. They learn about their frustrations and their reasons for choosing to be high school teachers," said Foltz. The audience watches as the teachers are summoned by the school's journalism department to help with a feature article explaining why they wanted to become teachers. This task forces the teacher to look back on their experiences in the classroom - the good and the bad. "They agonize over this 'essay' causing them to reflect a little too deeply for their comfort. The play also includes 5 'students' whose reactions to their teachers (and their teachers' reactions to them) reveal much. These students play a myriad of roles, including parents and people from the teachers' past who come to life as the teachers remember the reason why they chose their careers. The play is humorous...until it's not. As the play progresses and we find out that budget cuts mean that someone will likely lose a job (or a whole department), scenes become poignant. Teaching high school often wears on the emotions," said Foltz. 

Foltz began writing the play after retiring from her teaching position at Highlands High School. She became involved with Women Writing for a Change, a writing group based out of Cincinnati, and found a nurturing support system of writers within the group's classes. When Foltz initially began writing the script, she didn't have a stage production in mind. The play itself progressed scene by scene over a period of time. "I wrote a few scenes and my friends at Women Writing liked them and many of the retired teachers could relate. So I began to write more scenes. Once I had about 45-60 minutes of scenes, I began staging readings of the play to workshop the play. At that time, I thought I might want to create a fuller production. I held 4 readings, listening to the feedback that I received to direct me," said Foltz. 

Transforming The Faculty Lounge from stories floating around in Foltz's imagination to a stage-ready play has not always been an easy process. Like any creative endeavor, it has certainly had its ups and downs. One of Foltz's most rewarding, but also most challenging aspects of working on The Faculty Lounge was a reading held in New York City. "My friend from middle school days, Becky Baker, and her husband, Dylan Baker, offered to stage a reading at a studio in New York as well as opened their home to us," said Foltz. Becky Ann and Dylan Baker are both successful screen and stage actors based out of New York City. Becky is well known for her role as Jean Weir in "Freaks and Geeks" and can also be seen as Hannah Horvath's mom, Loreen Horvath, in "Girls." Dylan has been featured in an impressive amount of both indie films and blockbusters. Like his wife, he can also be found on hit television shows, and was nominated for an Emmy for his role on "The Good Wife." The Bakers were joined by two other actors and Foltz's son, Nick, to stage a reading of the play in New York City. For Foltz, the work wasn't over once the reading concluded. "We all went out to dinner afterwards and talked for hours about the dramatic possibilities for the next stage of this play. Then came the challenge. I needed to rip apart the seams of this one act reading play and create different, more fully developed play. This took the most time. I am happy with what I have now, but I am sure more revisions will be made through the rehearsal process," said Foltz. 

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Foltz has secured funding for The Faculty Lounge's stage production.The Faculty Lounge will officially hit the stage October 9-11, 2014. All performances will take place at The Carnegie in Covington, Kentucky. Foltz recently completed the casting process, and has assembled talent from throughout the entire Greater Cincinnati area. She is especially excited to be reunited with some former students, who she directed during their times at Highlands High School. Cast members Laura Petracco, Melissa Chinn Keller, Chris Payne, and Brian Kremer all got their start performing on the Highlands stage under Foltz's leadership. Foltz found another Ft. Thomas connection in her stage manager, Kate Brockmeier, who was also involved in theater productions while attending Highlands High School. Brockmeier now works as a professional stage manager for the Cincinnati opera. 

When deciding on the perfect director to help bring The Faculty Lounge to the stage, Foltz had to look no further than Danny Davies. Foltz and Davies have known each other for over 35 years, and the two have also taught together during that time. "I asked him because he is one of the most creative people I know with a vision of what this play should look like on stage. He directed at Bellevue High School, Highlands, and Campbell County. He is also happy to be working with one of his former students, Nathan Heneger," said Foltz. Foltz's strong script combined with Davies' direction is sure to make The Faculty Lounge one of the area's most memorable stage productions of the year. 

The time and effort needed to bring The Faculty Lounge to life hasn't taken away from Foltz's other creative ventures. She still continues to make time for her creative writing projects, and also performs stand-up comedy. Her time spent writing has taught her a lot about the art form, and has provided her with some words of wisdom for other writers in our community. "My advice to writers is simple: Write. If you think you have a story in you, you do...and only you can tell it. And join a supportive group of writers who will encourage you and give your honest feedback," said Foltz. 

Foltz certainly follows her own advice. She's already looking to the future, and thinking about her next play. She would also like to publish a chapbook of her poetry. "All I know is that I will always be writing," said Foltz. 

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