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Life & Arts

'Teachers need emotional support': Summer Break Theatre offers teachers support and creative outlets

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Summer Break Theatre

“We got together as a group of friends, but we were all teachers,” says Summer Break Theatre founder and artistic director Maggie Meador. “And we expressed that teachers – not just theater teachers but teacher in general – spend so much of their time and energy and passion on their students, as they should. But they don’t have a lot of creative outlets for themselves. We started to identify that there’s a real need for that and we wanted to create a theater company that allows space for teachers to be able to express themselves creatively.”

Meador and her fellow teacher/performers realized fairly quickly that Summer Break Theatre could do more than just put on shows– they could also work to support and advocate for other teachers in the community. “Our bigger goal started to become well wait a minute, now we see a need here for not only performance opportunities for teachers, but we also want to advocate for teachers,” she says. “We want to bring attention to how teachers need emotional support, they need creative support, and they need to be able to just have things done for them. But because we are teachers, we do it mostly in the summer.”

In the four years since its formation, the appropriately-named Summer Break Theatre has produced a show every summer break (though the pandemic lockdown summers of 2020 and 2021 meant doing those shows virtually and/or at drive-in theater spaces). “Our goal is now not just performances, but that we would like to be able to give our lesson plan ideas to teachers and also hold workshops occasionally. We have started this teacher fund, and it’s humble. It’s the beginning of it,” Meador says. “But it’s a big goal where I want to continue to grow the teacher fund and continue to add funds to it where eventually we can give stipends to teachers or small grants for them to be able to have classroom supplies. And we are the only theater company in Austin right now that’s focused on teachers, so we’re really proud of that.”

“Yeah, I think it’s actually becoming more than what I’d originally hoped it’d be,” says Jon DeMitchell, who performs with Summer Break and serves as the company’s co-producing director. “You know, when we first started out it was just a way for me to be able to perform when I was able to perform, and now… we’ve been taking larger and more purposeful steps. And I think that that’s what makes theater so important – it’s rooted in impacting a community. And, you know, we get to do that. So that’s really cool.”

This summer, they’re preparing to stage the premiere of the play The Dating Project, by local playwright Max Langert. That’ll open in July at Hyde Park Theatre, but before that they’ll be hosting Putting on the Ritz, an adult prom that will also serve as a fundraiser for Summer Break and for one teacher in particular. “Part of the reason for the adult prom is focused a little bit on a teacher, Annie Dragoo. She is at Austin High School, and she’s been teaching there for over 25 years. She’s one of the head theater directors along with her husband, Billy Dragoo. They’re both very well-loved. [Annie] recently had a heart transplant, so the whole community, including Summer Break Theatre, are trying to sort of rally around her. So part of the reason that we’re having this event is to benefit her and maybe raise some awareness and funds but also just to celebrate that she’s been through that journey and that she’s doing pretty well so far. And she’s got a new heart! So we’re celebrating that.”

Summer Break Theatre will host 'Putting on the Ritz: An Adult Prom' this Friday, June 3, at the Baker School.
Their production of The Dating Project will open in July at Hyde Park Theatre.

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