Randy Bowden, the head teacher and director of Woodrow Wilson High School’s Theatre and Dramatic Arts department in Long Beach, has been nominated for the inaugural Excellence in Theatre Education Award presented by Carnegie Mellon University and The Tony Awards. The winner will receive the honor at the 2015 Tony Awards on June 7.
The annual award recognizes a K-12 theatre educator in the U.S. “who embodies the highest standards of the profession" and demonstrates a "positive impact on the lives of students, advancing the theatre profession and a commitment to excellence.”
Bowden said that his interest in theatre came about in junior high school as an insecure kid who realized he had a knack for making others laugh.
“If I could make people laugh I felt better about myself,” he said.
His drama teacher at Buena High School in Ventura saw something in him and encouraged him to start acting and later pursue it as a career. He continued acting through college and participated in community theatre.
“I still have a picture of my drama teacher above my desk,” Bowden said.
When he was attending California State University, Long Beach for Theatre Arts, an opportunity arose to work with teenagers, whom he described as “so creative, funny, energetic and very open to anything.” From then on he became hooked on teaching and has been working at Wilson High School for 43 years. He remembers flashes from directing his first play at The Playhouse at Wilson when he was 23 years old, fond memories of which a student posted on his Facebook wall regarding the nomination.
“Honestly, when I see those posts…,” he paused, “I’ve already won a thousand times over. Sometimes I have to read them with a Kleenex. I’m unbelievable lucky and blessed to be in this profession and to get to work with these kids.”
Wilson High School Drama alumni Alyssa Archambault graduated from Wilson in 1995 after taking Bowden's classes, later working as an on-air radio DJ, music industry employee, and concert and events producer. She said that Bowden’s teachings have “followed her during the last 20 years in a very good way.” She said that spending time at The Playhouse was like walking into someone’s home.
“It just felt that comfortable,” she said, “where you knew you had a friend by your side.”
Archambault said that drama class “was instrumental because I was shy and quiet to begin with, and I didn’t know how to express myself or communicate to the world about who I was.”
However, she said she learned a lot through Bowden's classes. "All those character analyses and people working together and playing other characters was a safe way to explore what’s out there in the world and at the same time discovering yourself," Archambault said.
Forever a creative, Archambault is now heading back to school to study Sign Graphics at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, but will carry a piece of her high school drama class (literally) with her for the rest of her life.
She thinks Bowden may have encouraged her to audition for the lead role in Go Ask Alice because he wanted to bring that shy girl out of her shell. It was a moment so pivotal in Archambault’s high school career that when the stage was being resurfaced 20 years ago, she decided to take a piece of it with her.
“When he ripped up the stage I took a piece of the stage with me. So somewhere in a box I have a piece of The Playhouse stage from when I was in high school.”
If Bowden were to win the award, $10,000 would be donated by Carnegie Mellon University to Wilson’s drama department, an opportunity to upgrade The Playhouse’s lighting and sound systems and a chance to create two scholarships to help drama students get to college. Finalists will receive $1,000 each.
“I’m more excited about that than anything else, getting money for the theatre and for the kids," Bowden said. "It’s all about the kids."
Above left: photo posted by former student Shannon Wilson on the Bowden Facebook fan page.
The finalists will be announced this spring. Fans of Bowden can help promote his legacy by posting on the Facebook page, here and tweeting to the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon using the hashtag #nominatemyteacher.