Brooklyn teacher, play director ready to retire in June
© Carole Morris-Underhill
Long-time play director Susan Spence-Campbell is retiring this June. Beauty and the Beast Jr. marked her last theatrical production at Brooklyn District Elementary School. The creative team for the latest production were, from left, back row: Marco Gehrig (assistant director), Ann Kenny (set design), Susan Spence-Campbell (director), Amy Parker (producer) and Brenda Bishop (school decoration); front row: Erin Dooley (stage manager), Diane Fahie (costumes), Yvonne McCulloch (props) and Joanna Broome (musical director).
The Brooklyn District Elementary School’s musical rendition of Beauty and the Beast Jr. wrapped on a bittersweet note.
With the final curtain call on May 4, came the end of an era at the school.
That era began in 1996, when Susan Spence-Campbell assumed the role of director. The retiring Grade 6 teacher has led student-studded casts in 15 plays.
On May 1, an ensemble comprised of Spence-Campbell’s current and former drama students, ranging in age from 10 to 30, gathered at Brooklyn District to pay tribute to their beloved director in a most fitting fashion — with a few farewell numbers that have been performed and perfected on the school’s stage since Spence-Campbell joined the BDES family.
Stage manager Erin Dooley, who has worked side-by-side with Spence-Campbell on each BDES production she has undertaken,arranged the reunion as a means to express her gratitude to the woman that has been her mentor for the past 15 years.
“It was amazing to see that some of the people who were in shows 10 years ago still remembered some of the lyrics… and dance moves.”
A couple of Spence-Campbell’s former drama students flew in from the United States to perform at the reunion show.
The long overdue encores were organized to remind Spence-Campbell of how many lives she has touched through her voluntary involvement with the arts at the elementary school.
“I think the biggest contribution she’s made overall is everybody felt they were important when they were a part of the show,” Dooley says.
“I’ve seen her allow children who may not have always had the chance to excel at something… the opportunity to shine. She puts all that on the backburner and really builds what she sees in front of her.”
Dooley says Spence-Campbell has what seems to be an innate ability to make every cast member feel like his or her role is an integral part of the production.
“I’ve always had really high expectations because I’ve always believed that if you set your standards high, kids will meet them, and if you set your standards low, they’ll meet that, too.” Susan Spence-Campbell
“She has expectations for them, and she does what she can to help them meet them — and they always do.”
Dooley says Spence-Campbell has redefined elementary school plays by setting the bar high for each element of the production, including lighting, microphones, sound systems, set designs and costumes.
Spence-Campbell was involved in productions in Newport Station and what is now known as the West Hants Middle School before settling in at Brooklyn District.
In spending more than half of her teaching career at one school, she has noted a dramatic increase in involvement in the arts. Beauty and the Beast Jr. attracted 50 cast members and 110 students for the choir.
“I don’t audition kids — if you want to be in the musical, you’re in the musical. There’s no rejection,” she said.
“I think that’s really good because sometimes kids can act, but they can’t audition.”
She says the students often amaze her when they show her an emotional depth that is extraordinary for their age.
“They’re amazing. I think a lot of people underestimate what elementary kids can do,” she said.
“I’ve always had really high expectations because I’ve always believed that if you set your standards high, kids will meet them, and if you set your standards low, they’ll meet that, too.”
When, after 27 years of teaching, she calls it a day at the end of June, Spence-Campbell says it will be hard to say goodbye to the children who have given her so much in return by realizing their own potential right before her eyes.
“I’ll miss the last dress rehearsal when they make me cry every year, when I watch how far they’ve come and I’m able to say to them, ‘We’ve got a show.’”