Toledo’s theater programs brought to life

Nathan Bush, a theater professional with decades of experience who previously taught at Oregon State University, has been placed at the helm of Toledo Elementary and Jr/Sr High Schools’ theater programs. (Photos by Stephanie Blair)

Nathan Bush didn’t plan to revive Toledo High School’s theater program when he applied to work as a substitute teacher for Lincoln County School district, nor did he plan to teach theater full-time for all the grades in town. But four months into the school year, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

“This is the first time they’ve had theater, for most of these kiddos,” said Bush. But he also added, “These kids have blown me away.”

Among the accomplishments of his first few months working in Toledo are obtaining a grant from the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition for lights for the elementary school, connecting with the local community to gain costume donations and loans from Trinity United Methodist Church and the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts and putting on the first show to be performed on the Toledo High School stage in over a decade — “A Christmas Carol,” which gathered an audience of around 150 people.

But his focus in all of these endeavors is the students he’s teaching. He admitted that the set for that first show didn’t look it’s best, but he was more proud that it was done by those students rather than lookpristine because he painted it himself.

“We did it to do it,” said Bush, “and we did it from nothing.”

While some students have been more hesitant to jump into theater than others — particularly in the higher grades — Bush said that he is seeing incredible results by making an effort to find what they are naturally good at and where they individually are comfortable working.

The elementary classes often play games during class time to work on fundamentals of spatial awareness, physicality and empathy — a large component of Bush’s teaching — Bush said he runs the high school program “like a mini theater company,” because the kids are learning with him to be young professionals.

“First and foremost, train them to be professionals,” said Bush of his philosophy, “Teach them to be nice, professional. Train them to get people to work with and you and not for you.”

He gives out assigned technical and leadership roles, as well as acting. Bush explained that he tries to find the strengths and comfort level of each student to encourage them in an area where they will shine, whether that’s carpentry, design, organization or directorship off stage or acting on stage.

The next show put on at Toledo Jr/Sr High School will be in May. The selected work is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which he plans to cast students from across the grades in. After that, there’s more planning to do this summer, but Bush said he’s excited now that he knows what he has to plan.

As his longterm goal, Bush said he’d like to register the high school with the International Thespian Society, which would open the door for more resources and experiences for his students.