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The Boiling Point

Shalhevet news online: When we know it, you'll know it

The Boiling Point

Shalhevet news online: When we know it, you'll know it

The Boiling Point

Emily Chase, who led drama department for 31 years, has left for Crossroads

NEXT+ACT%3A+Ms.+Chase+has+been+both+an+actor+and+director+around+Los+Angeles%2C+and+an+original+play+she+directed%2C+titled+Eight+Nights%2C+won+two+2021+Ovation+Awards.
Ella Hoenig
NEXT ACT: Ms. Chase has been both an actor and director around Los Angeles, and an original play she directed, titled Eight Nights, won two 2021 Ovation Awards.

Ms. Emily Chase, who founded and developed the Shalhevet drama department while encouraging students to write and direct their own plays, has left for Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica after three decades at Shalhevet.

The news, which came only days before the fall semester started, was unexpected. In an interview after announcing her departure in a post on the Drama Schoology page, Ms. Chase apologized for the timing.

“I am sorry I had to give notice at the end of summer,” Ms. Chase said. “A teacher left for a college position, and so there was an opening for me. And I just couldn’t pass it up because it was such a perfect fit for me.” 

In her Schoology post, Ms. Chase described her new role at Crossroads as “full-time drama teacher,” saying that she would both be teaching acting and directing plays there. At Shalhevet, she directed two plays per year but had taught no classes in at least 10 years.

“A full time position is perfect for this stage of my life,” Ms. Chase wrote. “It’s five minutes from my house; I can get home in time for dinner; I have wonderful Drama teacher colleagues; and a lovely theater to work in with a big Performing Arts Center on the way.”

Ms. Chase founded the drama program at Shalhevet in 1992 when she was barely out of college, and was closely involved in the building of the current theater and the previous one, in the school’s original building – a renovated convalescent hospital and medical office building where space was found that could be used.

I tried to keep it very student-centered… really taking cues from the kids on what we’d be creating, [and] challenged them to be really creative and inventive. And they did. It was wonderful.

— Ms. Emily Chase, former drama teacher

“When I started, it was really a different world,” Ms. Chase said in an interview. “Kids were definitely not as academically pressured, and there weren’t as many co-curriculars. So I had students for two hours, Monday through Thursday after school. And we did three shows a year.”

One of the plays Ms. Chase directed was called Stagedoor, put on in 2006 with a cast of 28. This contrasts with the number of cast members from last year, with a cast of six for the musical, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.  

“It was a different vibe,” Ms. Chase said. “Now, kids are very pressured to have perfect grades to be in many extracurriculars. And it’s harder for them to fit drama in, especially at a dual curriculum school.”

Ms. Chase directed a famous play every fall, sometimes modern and sometimes Shakespeare, and staged student-written one-acts in the spring. The one-acts were written with coaching from outside playwrights. The program was entirely co-curricular, with auditions, rehearsals and tech work done after school and on Sundays.

Over the years she also directed three musicals, including You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. The other musicals were a set of student-written scenes about immigrants that used songs from other plays in 2005, and a student-written play in 2013 with original student-composed music, set in a country music community in Nashville.

These and other original dramas expressed her overall teaching philosophy.

“I tried to keep it very student-centered, totally inclusive, meaning anyone who wanted to come could come in,” Ms. Chase said. “By student-centered, I mean – especially with a one-act festival – really taking cues from the kids on what we’d be creating, [and] challenged them to be really creative and inventive. And they did. It was wonderful.”

She also brought in professionals from the theater community to enhance the shows.

“I absolutely used what I learned in the outside world to enrich the program,” said Ms. Chase, who directed and acted in professional productions around Southern California.”

CENTERSTAGE: Ms. Chase, top right, founded Shalhevet’s drama program, directing main stage performances, musicals, and student-written one-acts. (Geoffrey Wade photography)

“I brought in professional light designer designers, sound designers, set designers, fight choreographers, dance choreographers, dialect coaches, from the greater professional community, all people that I had worked with,” she said. “So it was fun to combine my outside life with my students learning and the students then got to work with other theater professionals, which was very healthy for them.”

 

 

She was especially proud of last year’s Eight Nights, by Jennifer Meisel, which Ms. Chase directed. Ms. Meisel, she said, had taught playwriting at Shalhevet for a few years.

“It got the LA Times critics pick, and garnered seven Ovation Award nominations and two Ovation awards,” said Ms. Chase. “And it was a very beautiful play about a woman who survived the Holocaust and thrives and ends up helping refugees the way she had been helped.”

As for when she first became interested in theater, Ms. Chase said she always has been.

“Since I was a very little girl, I was directing my friends in little plays in our living room,” she said. “I was putting on the Nutcracker album, and dancing around and making my family watch my little shows every week.”

She said that although she was proud of many accomplishments from her time at Shalhevet, one achievement that came to mind was the one-act production in spring 2022, called the Jewish Century Cycle.

“I’m proud of many things,” Ms. Chase said, “But I’ll highlight the Jewish century cycle that we did the year before last, where students wrote 10-minute plays that took place in different 20th century decades of America, about the Jewish experience, based on August Wilson’s great century cycle about the African-American experience in the U.S. in the 20th century.”

But she said she valued every year’s experience.

“Honestly,” she said, “every experience has had its thrills. And I’ve always really loved the students, and seen my work is collaborative and ensemble based and student-centered.”

Freshman Ella Nadel, who played Linus in last year’s production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, said Ms. Chase’s direction helped her grow as an actress. 

She transformed me as an actress. She taught me how to, instead of thinking of acting as pretending to be someone else, to actually become that person, being in their mindset.

— Maayan Mazar, 12th grade

“I’ve done musical theater for the past, well, like 11 years,” said Ella, who has performed with Creative Kids, which closed down during Covid, and YADA. “She just really helped me grow as an actor…When I’m running through the lines, she says, ‘Think about it from the character’s perspective or something.’ And it just really brings a lot of insight to me. And it helps me learn more. And it helps me improve.”

Senior Maayan Mazar, who has been in plays at Shalhevet since her sophomore year, said Ms. Chase changed her acting technique entirely.

“Ms. Chase kind of took away everything I’d ever learned about acting and taught me everything in a completely new way,” Maayan said. “She transformed me as an actress. She taught me how to, instead of thinking of acting as pretending to be someone else, to actually become that person, being in their mindset.”

In Ms. Chase’s Schoology post, she invited students to stay in touch with her via Drama’s WhatsApp group.

“I’ll truly miss you all,” she wrote, “and am grateful for the hours we spent together making art. I will cherish those memories.

“Even though I love my Shalhevet students, and it’s always hard to say goodbye,” Ms. Chase said. “I know they’ll understand that it’s the best thing for me. And I know that they’ll all be okay.”


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About the Contributor
Sonya Katzin, Arts & Culture Editor
Sonya Katzin, 10th grade, joined the Boiling Point as a staff writer in her freshman year, and this year as a sophomore is the Arts and Culture Editor. Outside of Boiling Point, Sonya is on the Shalhevet tennis team and swim team, and outside of school, she volunteers as a tutor with Reading Partners at LAUSD's Carthay Elementary School. She also enjoys reading, watching movies, and hanging out with her friends.

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    Jacob Lefkowitz BrooksFeb 1, 2024 at 11:12 pm

    While I’m sure everyone at Shalhevet will be sad to see her go, Ms. Chase left an enormous impact on me and many others. I remember being a senior and wanting to act in The Real Inspector Hound but not having much time to spare. Ms. Chase said she wanted to cast me as Birdboot, a sleezy critic whose personality I felt was diametrically opposed to mine. Despite the part seeming too much and too difficult, I trusted Ms. Chase and went along with it. There was a moment during rehearsal when I was frustrated for some reason and yelled something I can’t remember. Instead of reprimanding me, Ms. Chase told me that outburst was the best emotion I’d shown all day. Thanks to her constant support and dedication, I was able to become the character and have an amazing experience that I’ll take with me forever. Thanks again Ms. Chase and break a leg!

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