Ray Palasz: High School Drama Teacher – Theatre People
By Mitch Stark
This week on TheatrePeople, I’m so excited to introduce you to a dedicated, humble and fun-loving high school drama director, Ray Palasz.
I first met and sat down with Ray at the International Theatre Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I enjoyed an evening at the ‘Indiana drama teacher table.’ Soon after, I traveled to Indianapolis to teach projection design at their state conference. What stood out to me most at the conference about Ray was his unique, down-to-earth relationships with his theatre students. I could tell his rapport with them and sense of humor brings a lot of fun and energy to his program.
I hope you enjoy Ray’s theatrical musings as much as I did. Have a great weekend!
Ray Palasz, theatre teacher and director in Munster, Indiana
What’s a show that inspires you? (explain away!)
Come From Away. I am a big fan of creating an ensemble with my students (regardless of whether there is an “ensemble” portion of the cast). That show was one of the tightest ensembles I have ever seen, and most of the cast is on stage most of the time. Add to that the challenges that a musical puts on performers, that it has NO INTERMISSION, and that there is not a fancy set or other special effects to support them, and you have what I think of as the apex of what theatre should be for performers.
What’s one of your happiest moments in theatre?
I think one of the biggest thrills I get is when the students take over the show during tech week and I do not lose sleep over it. When I lose sleep on a production it’s because I feel like I need to do more work with students on how to own the production, whether it is on stage or in the booth. When I get to leave each night knowing that everyone is giving their all, I know I am doing my best as an educator.
What’s the biggest ‘fail’ or goof you’ve seen on stage? (do tell the story)
I was a relatively new director, and I was directing a non-musical production of Oliver Twist. My high school director was in the next town over, and I invited him to see a rehearsal, as it was one of his favorite shows and he wasn’t able to see it during the run. I was SO EXCITED to show off what I had done because I had hired a fight choreographer, and we had some AMAZING tech elements.
However, after the rehearsal he told me “Ray, there’s no throughline.” I was crushed. But it reminded me that no matter what, if the actors aren’t telling a story, and if the technical elements are not telling a story, there is nothing exciting for the audience to watch. I carry that with me to this day.
Why do you love theatre?
I love theatre because I get to connect with people. Whether it’s actors, designers and technicians as we create a story for the audience, or whether it’s striving to connect with and impact the audience, at the core of it all is connecting with people. That said, I tend to avoid engaging with audience members after performances of shows I direct. I don’t want them to tell me it was a good show or a bad show.
Theatre is for…
Whether you are a student who finds theatre as an activity to keep you coming to school, or it’s your life’s work, it is an outlet for so much that we artists have inside of us. It gets released through the stories we tell. And throughout history, theatre has been there to help hold those in power accountable—even to the point of banishment!
More about Ray
Ray has been in theatre education for 17 years, directing at Lake Central High School and more recently, Munster High School. His directing credits include Lives of the Saints, Tartuffe, It’s a Wonderful Life, Drum Taps, As You Like It, The Harvey Girls, The Refugee Women, and Much Ado About Nothing. As a student, he performed in over twenty productions from sixth through twelfth grade, helping lead his high school to two consecutive state championships in Readers Theatre. Ray is the current Co-Chapter Director for Indiana Thespians, and has served on several committees with the Educational Theatre Association. He also has developed curriculum with Theatrefolk’s Drama Teacher Academy. He is also a member of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. Ray earned his BA in Theatre and Television Arts from Valparaiso University in 2003. In 2012, Ray earned his MA in Literature and Composition from Purdue University Calumet. In 2015 he married his wife Courtney, a middle school choir director. They have two beautiful sons, Elias and Isaac!