Hello again, TheatrePeople!
This week I'm so happy to introduce you to a true 'TheatrePeople' person, Mr. Josh Belk. I met Josh years ago when I was living in Colorado, and you'd be hard pressed to find a grander theatre enthusiast. And even more so, a teacher who is dedicated to giving his students a rich, lifelong experience in the arts. Josh had to point out to me recently that I had featured one of his former students, who is now a theatre teacher herself, in TheatrePeople before him—all in good fun, of course! However, it's beyond overdue for you to meet Josh.
I hope you enjoy his interview as much as I did!
What’s a show that inspires you? (explain away!)
Probably jumping on the bandwagon here, but recently Dear Evan Hansen really speaks to me. The struggle between isolation and connection—exacerbated by technology—has never seemed more relevant. The need to connect with, and facilitate connection between, students has always been important to me. DEH really cuts straight to the heart in this matter. As far as shows that I’ve worked on, And A Child Shall Lead, was deeply emotionally satisfying. It tells the true(ish) story of children in the concentration camp of Terezin in Poland during World War II, and their struggle to just be children. The connections between those children from 70 years ago and today are uncanny.
What’s one of your happiest moments in theatre?
We produced Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express. All the characters are train engines or train cars, and thus perform on roller skates. Students spent weeks in “skate-boot-camp” learning how to move, how to stop, how to function as trains. One day at rehearsal, I watched one of the performers come out of our green room, turn the corner into the hall behind the auditorium, and just...glide down the hall in her skates. She owned it. She wasn’t thinking of skating, she was just…doing it. In that moment I thought, “Wow…this crazy thing might actually work…” The whole show was amazing, but that moment is crystalized in my memory.
What’s the biggest ‘fail’ or goof you’ve seen on stage? (do tell the story)
Becky’s New Car. Sophie, the senior playing Becky, was outstanding, and this was a great show for her. Near the end of the show, the Becky character has run away from her life and is presumed dead by the other characters. With nowhere to go, she returns to her office to sleep the night. We had played with different options for where she will sleep, and one was crawling under her desk, then deciding better of it. So, closing night comes, and we are nearing the end of the show, and Becky crawls under the desk, and starts to climb back out, and it just collapses on her. Drawers everywhere. I died. Her mother—a good friend and coworker—is a few seats over from me and the superintendent of the school-district is a couple rows back. All I can think is, “I just killed Sophie in front of her mom and the boss.” Then I see this hand pop up—disaster movie style—from the rubble of the desk, and Sophie climbs up. She was fine, and played it off like that was supposed to happen—and honestly, in the life of her character—it kinda worked. No one got hurt, I didn’t kill Sophie in front of her mom, and the Super liked the special effects. We fixed the desk—faulty t-nut had worked loose, and the show run ended successfully.
Why do you love theatre?
That is a big question. Like so many, I love theatre for the connections and family that is created. Theatre is a place that has been “home” for me since high school, and I strive to facilitate that for my students. To provide an environment where they are welcome and comfortable. I love that it gives so many people so many opportunities to participate. We need all the things—yes, actors, but also builders and painters and musicians and props artisans and dancers and technicians in a variety of flavors. I love that if you are willing, you can come play with us. I love that we can give our whole selves to a show, and it is our favorite thing and nothing can be better, but then the show is over—but then the next show starts and THAT is our favorite thing.
Theatre is for...
So much of what we do is to build a connection—a relationship with the other. We so frequently describe ourselves as family, but what is that? The choice to connect. One of the things I am proudest of regarding my students is that they consistently call themselves family, and intentionally work to grow that connection. And now, during this pandemic, what are we performers lacking, and trying to create? Connection. The loss of live audience is huge for us, but we continue to use our art to try to connect with someone, to find ways to bridge the gap. Because connection—actor to character, actor to actor, designer to director, teacher to student, friend to friend, performer to audience—is paramount. It is what we do.
More great TheatrePeople!
More about Josh
Josh Belk has been teaching theatre since 2004. He taught at Pomona High School in Arvada, Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, and is proud to be a member of the inaugural staff that opened Palmer Ridge HS in 2008. Josh received his BA in Theatre Arts with emphases in Theatre Education, Design Technology, and Directing from the University of Northern Colorado. He has served as a board member on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Colorado Theatre, and as a founding board member of the Colorado Alliance of Technical Theatre Educators. In November 2015, Stage Directions Magazine named PRHS' Bear Necessity Theatre Company the 2015 Southwest winner of the High School Honors Theatre Program. Bear Necessity was recognized in 2017 by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Bobby G Awards for their Colorado premier of Starlight Express. Josh has been nominated twice for the DCPA Bobby G Award for Outstanding Achievement in Scenic Design. Some favorites from his productions include Starlight Express, The Boys Next Door, Little Shop of Horrors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Becky’s New Car, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Seussical, Twelfth Night, And A Child Shall Lead and Into the Woods.
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