Paoli High School English teacher Maria Wishart was honored in early December for her 20 years as director of the high school’s drama club. She was praised for the positive influence she has had on the lives of past and present students.
The recognition, which surprised Wishart, took place on the closing night of the club’s production of “Descendants”. In addition to drawing attention to Wishart’s 20 years as a director, the Recognition also noted that “Descendants” was the 50th theatrical production that Wishart had directed. She began her directorial career with a production of a play aptly titled “Backstage” in the spring of 2001.
After an encore from “Descendants,” Wishart was called to the stage, where her years of service were recognized by Elijah MacDonald, a senior with PHS and cast member of “Descendants”; Craig Starr, former member of the theater club and current member of Paoli’s school board, and Roger Moon, whose daughters Mariah Blalock and Kendra Mathes starred in Wishart’s theatrical productions in the early 2000s.
Starr presented Wishart with a book of memories containing congratulatory notes and reflections from over 40 students who had participated in the PHS Drama Club productions under Wishart’s direction.
Starr, a 2003 PHS graduate, recounted that when Wishart urged him to audition for a role, he told him, “I don’t want to do this. It’s not for me. ”To that, he added,“ You chose me anyway. ”But Starr said he came to appreciate the opportunity to appear in theatrical productions.
Moon, referring to the thoughts shared in the memory book, said, “The posts focus on Ms. Wishart’s patience and dedication to the performing arts at PHS. Former students share how she helped them overcome their fears, step out of their comfort zone and gain self-confidence. They talk about how she influenced their future life and the impact she had on them. It’s clear that Ms. Wishart not only helped them develop a “character” on stage, but, more importantly, helped them develop a human character in real life. “
Wishart said in a later interview, “I love theater, but what drives me to direct is what it does for kids. I love watching children flourish, watching them find something within themselves that they didn’t know existed. I love watching them solve problems and create. I love watching them interact with each other, learn from each other, and connect with people they might never have even spoken to otherwise.
Addressing her thoughts to Wishart for the memory book, Jasmine McAlister wrote, “Thank you for always providing a safe space for students to learn, make friends, be themselves and grow through creativity. You have always made me feel worthy and valued.
Michael Woolston, a 2002 graduate, remembers playing a role in the production of “Jane Eyre”. He wrote: “Not only were you an amazing theater director, but one of my favorite teachers. … I remember you wrote on one of my papers, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good at storytelling. Maybe you should do this for a living. It stuck with me and I like to think I still do because I live in Los Angeles and work at Walt Disney Studios.
Sean Fahey, 2005 graduate, wrote: “Your impact as an educator and sponsor has reached more than you might think. After becoming an educator myself, I tapped into my inner “Maria” and courageously became the director of a theater club in elementary school. “
Moon said it was appropriate for Wishart’s recognition to take place in the Ruth Farlow Uyesugi Auditorium, which he said was opened nine years ago in November “in honor of the force driving force behind the construction of this facility “. Uyesugi was a longtime English and journalism professor at PHS and had not only directed shows but also wrote plays, some of which had been covered for shows run by Wishart.
Blalock wrote to Wishart: “This book is filled with pages of well-deserved worship and love for you. Reading the words, I couldn’t help but compare the love that so many people have for you with the love that generations before us had for Mrs. Uyesugi. It was a love that Blalock said students felt “long after they left class.”
Wishart later said that on the night of her recognition, “I was wearing a shirt that had belonged to Ruth.”
Wishart said: “Anything anyone manages to stage in this community is at least somewhat indebted to Ruth Uyesugi, whether they have learned directly from her, learned from those who have learned from her, or who have learned from her. ‘they are simply the beneficiaries of a community that has allowed the theater to thrive.
Wishart also said, “Sometimes when people ask me how I came to be a director, I just respond, ‘Because God knew that was where I needed to be’. The experiences and relationships along the way have been of great blessings to me and also provided me with a unique opportunity to do good.