STERLING – Tim Schlegel believes in creative license.
“The more you allow them to experiment with their parts, the more you see a different type of character and a different type of person,” he said. “That’s the fun part [of my job] – seeing that growth in a student.”
Schlegel, 47, who has been the theater director at Sterling High School for almost 15 years, recently was honored by the Illinois Alliance for Arts Education for his commitment to drama education.
He co-teaches two classes of music and theater and directs the fall play and spring musical. He also coaches the speech and group interpretation teams.
He also serves on the board at Woodlawn Arts Academy, where he teaches a combination singing-dancing-acting class and directs the summer show.
Christy Zepezauer, Woodlawn’s executive director, nominated Schlegel for the honor.
“Although his position ... only requires him to work with high school-age students, he has made it his own, personal mission to get students engaged with theater from kindergarten through college,” she wrote in a letter.
Schlegel, who has been involved in theater for more than 25 years, believes theater opens doors for people of all ages, but perhaps no more than for students.
He not only directs musicals and plays and exposes students to a variety of genres and subject matter, but also organizes trips for them to see professional shows and study with theater professionals.
“Theater is a way for people to express themselves and express thoughts and opinions,” he said. “It causes the audience, then, to think.”
Schlegel said theater involves critical thinking on the part of the actors, directors and technical staff presenting a show, as well as on the part of the viewers watching it.
“That’s what the arts are about,” he said.
Hannah Matheney, a senior who has been in several shows and is on the speech and group interpretation teams, said Schlegel is able to connect with students unlike most teachers.
“He’s amazing with students,” she said. “He connects with them really well. He’s really changed me so much ... he’s helped me grow and learn. I’m almost a completely different person, and he’s played a huge part in that.”
Matheney points to a time she was cast as Captain Hook, a male character, in “Peter Pan,” and Schlegel helped her work through that transition.
“It was very difficult – more difficult than I would ever think,” she said. “He really helped guide me through that and make that transition from myself to the character.”
Schlegel appreciates the unique relationship theater creates between students and teachers.
“You see a different side of them,” he said, “unlike a math or English teacher, who has them for a class period, 90 minutes or 60 minutes a day and is communicating to them in a certain way, teaching a specific topic. ... You work with them on a professional level ... but they look to you almost as a parent. ... They have this confidence in you.”
“It’s really helped me to have such a connection with a teacher,” she said. “I hope every student who goes through high school has a teacher who helps them grow into the person they want to be and elevates them to the next level and gives them that drive to do something.”
Schlegel used to do shows with middle school students, so that by the time they got
to high school, they were interested in theater and had a little experience being on stage. Budget cuts put the kibosh on that effort, though. Woodlawn since has offered shows for middle school students and now does shows for elementary school students, too.
The Woodlawn program is a feeder for the Sterling program, and with Sterling graduate Anna Kurtz at the helm at Sauk Valley Community College, the Sterling program now is a feeder for the college as well.
Schlegel said that pipeline means students have the opportunity to go further and realize their potential.
“As long as we have a community that supports the arts, like it does ... then those students feel supported as well,” he said.
Family: Wife, Sarah; two sons, Brad, 15, a freshman, and Carter, 10, a fourth-grader
Occupation: Director of theater at Sterling High School
Education: Morrison High School; bachelor's degree in vocal performance from Augustana College
Favorite musical: Currently, I don't really have one. ... I listen to "Avenue Q" a lot. Even though it's not necessarily “appropriate,” it's just a harsh way of speaking reality. It covers many topics that many people feel uncomfortable with, yet it speaks the truth and breaks down walls.
Favorite non-musical: The most recent one I loved was "Peter and the Starcatcher," which is the story of how Peter Pan became Peter Pan.
Favorite show directed at Sterling: It's a toss-up between "Beauty and the Beast," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Les Miserables." Those are the three that everyone talks about.
Favorite role ever played: Every time I was in a show, I was never a lead. I consider that a bonus: I see what I put my leads through, and I never would I ever want to be in that position.
Favorite musical artist: I don't really have one. I listen to a lot of talk radio. It's very odd.
Hobbies: I'm addicted to watching "The Tudors" right now.
Winners are ...
Several Sauk Valley-area people and groups were recognized with awards from the Illinois Alliance for Arts Education. They are:
Artist Award : Carol Deibert, retired Rock Falls High School teacher and instructor at Woodlawn Arts Academy
Drama Educator Award : Tim Schlegel, director of theater at Sterling High School and Woodlawn Arts Academy board member
K-8 Music Educator Award : David Larkin, music teacher at Bureau Valley North
High School Music Educator Award : Mike McCoy, band teacher at Sterling High School
Industry and Business Award : Janna Groharing, Tim McNinch and Susan Boyd, and Sterling Main Street, organizers of Fourth Fridays in Sterling
Industry and Business Award : Sauk Valley Bank, art advocate and supporter of Woodlawn Arts Academy