Drama Teacher Bennett Gale
Life's a Stage
By Tim Holt
Photo courtesy of Tim Holt
The Golden Eagle Charter School on the outskirts of Mount Shasta packs in a lot of activity in its half dozen or so rooms – from English classes to woodworking, jazz band to ocean ecology. On this particular morning, the school’s drama teacher, Bennett Gale, coaches a dozen students on the fine points of stage movement while a student toots on his saxophone in an adjoining room. Outside the classroom, a couple of students trace whimsical figures on the room’s frosty windows while people wander in and out of the classroom in seemingly random fashion.
While all this is going on, Gale and his students manage to focus on the task at hand: Rehearsals for an upcoming production of “War Of The Worlds,” the 1938 radio drama that scared the country half out of its wits with a realistic portrayal of an invasion by space aliens.
Gale plays the role of both teacher and director here. He likes to give his students free rein to come up with their own ideas on such things as set design and costuming. “I call it ‘leading from the back of the room,’ letting these kids learn about theater by doing it themselves,” Gale says.
While he’s serious about the craft of theater and the lessons he has to impart, Gale laces those lessons with wit and humor, while tossing in some general life lessons along the way: “Remember, guys, the woman is always right. Knowing that will save you a lot of angst in the years to come.”
The mood is light but purposeful, the students engaged in the process but having fun at the same time.
When it comes to the core stuff, stage movement and delivering lines, Gale, a professional actor, hones in on every gesture, every inflection of voice, on the pauses that can enhance the comic or dramatic impact of a single line.
As he tells his students, “It’s the small details that make the difference between ‘pretty good high school play’ and ‘a superior production.’”
Today he spends a lot of time showing two of his actors, Madigan Adamson and Guinevere Robinson, the precise movements and voice inflections that will milk one single line, “There’s a small problem,” for maximum comic impact. Gale, in the role of demanding director, has them go over and over it until he’s satisfied they’ve got it just right.
Over the past six years, starting with Golden Eagle, Gale has expanded his teaching efforts to include schools in Butteville, Montague and Dunsmuir. He shares with his students a craft he’s honed over many years, but there’s more to it than that, something that has to do with life skills in general: “Success in life depends a lot on communication skills,” he says, “and the essence of theater is communication.”
It’s also about teamwork or, as Gale, puts it, “co-creating with others.” And there’s the self-confidence and self-esteem that comes from overcoming stage fright, memorizing lines and learning to deliver them effectively.
Dave Theno, Golden Eagle’s program manager, says about Gale’s drama classes: “Over the past six years, it’s been gratifying to see our students’ skills develop hand in hand with their sense of camaraderie and shared commitment to acting. Bennett’s drama program is a real asset to our school.”
For Brenden Short, a Golden Eagle senior who’s taken Gale’s class for the past four years, it was a chance to overcome his shyness, “to break out of my shell.” He’s gone well beyond that, and has served as a volunteer stage manager for several productions of Gale’s New Frontier Theatre Company, which will stage “Midsummer Night’s Dream” this summer in Dunsmuir.
“The things you learn in drama class can definitely be applied to other things in life,” says Short. “You learn how to act around other people, how to control your emotions, how to be better controlled in any situation you have to deal with.”
“War Of The Worlds”
Golden Eagle Charter School,
2405 S. Mt. Shasta Blvd. #3, Mount Shasta
May 5 and 6, 7 pm; May 7, 2 pm
Call (530) 926-5800 for more information and ticket prices