Mr. Nate spends the first 15 minutes of his allotted hour of class time taking attendance. But this isn’t any ordinary roll call and it’s the first clue that Nathan Holcomb (the kids call him Mr. Nate), the theater teacher at Hillside Middle School, has a different idea about why theater is important and how to teach it.
Each student has to look him in the eye and quickly answer a random question. “How was your weekend?” “Who is your favorite celebrity crush, male and female?” “What did you have for breakfast?” The kid has to answer in clear sentences spoken so everyone can hear. It’s called conversation and Mr. Nate considers it a foundational skill for theater and for life.
For a teen culture that does most of its communicating with fingers flying on a keyboard, this kind of exchange is revolutionary. Some naturally have confidence, enjoy being heard, seen and even laughed at, but even more students don’t. “Public speaking, just answering a simple question in front of others, matters,” says Mr. Nate.
“One of the main premises in theater is speaking up,” he says. “And learning to be comfortable with that will make a difference for your whole life.”
It’s a safe bet that we won’t ever see the names of these kids on the marquees at Sundance. But learning to empathize through role-playing and communicate by speaking up is an education in itself.