The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment industry, each year pays homage to teachers who have had an impact on some of Hollywood’s actors. This year, actor Bill Pullman, starring in NBC’s 1600 Penn, as well as a new role in May in the Summer, a Sundance premiere, and Joey Lauren Adams, known for her breakout role in Chasing Amy and soon to be seen in Blue Caprice, were reunited with teachers who have made a real difference in their lives.
Long before his name appeared on a marquee, Pullman taught theater at Montana State University, and after being convinced by his students to give the film industry a shot, Pullman found himself working under the tutelage of Paul Austin, actor and founder at the Liberty Free Theatre in Liberty, N.Y.
Pullman credits Austin for launching his career after he got Pullman involved in an Off Broadway production that received rave reviews, and put him on a fast track to Hollywood.
“When you teach, you look for something in your students that you don’t know,” Austin said after receiving the award from Pullman. “You ask lots of questions, and you eventually get out of the way, so your student can excel.”
Also honored at the luncheon was recently retired North Little Rock High West drama teacher Carol Ann McAdams. Joey Lauren Adams said that Carol Ann changed her life during high school. Adams found herself an outcast by not making the cheerleading squad, so eventually she joined the drama club, a setting she said was for geeks and outsiders, but it helped her find her identity.
McAdams said she felt blessed to have Adams in her class. “She was so talented and I told her through her critiques that she could become a professional actress.” McAdams continued, “She always has stayed in touch with me. Recently, she told me that she had kept my critique – and for a student to listen to you, trust you, believe you and love you and then take something that you’ve said to them long ago in a class, and do something with it, that’s what makes a difference in a teacher’s life.”
McAdams is a true proponent of arts education in our schools. She found that many students would not have wanted to come to school if not for drama or art class or music. She said she always pushed the envelope and helped show her students what they were capable of achieving, leading them to lives they never knew they could have. “If you can make a student believe that they have something else to give, and if the arts will help that student find a niche, then that’s what it’s all about,” said McAdams.
According to a report The Arts and Achievement in at-Risk Youth released last year from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), at-risk students who have access to the arts in-or out-of-school also tend to have better academic results, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement.
Another 2012 arts education report from the Department of Education found that the availability of theater and dance instruction at elementary schools has significantly declined in the last ten years. To address this decline, ED is allowing states more flexibility under the No Child Left Behind law, and is making the arts and humanities a competitive priority in the Promise Neighborhood competition.
Secretary Arne Duncan noted at the report’s release that “a well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students’ success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode.” Pullman and Adams are award-winning proof.
Sherry Schweitzer is senior communications specialist in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach