When Taylor Middle-High School substitute science teacher Virginia Henderson found out there hadn’t been a drama club at the school in Pierson for the past 10 years, she was blown away.
“There was nobody there to do it,” Henderson told The Beacon. “Nobody wanted to do it.”
Her students wanted her to do it, though, and Henderson was up to the task. That’s how, in October, Taylor Middle-High School’s new drama club was born: eager kids asking their teacher to give them a chance.
One of the students who’s been a part of the club from the beginning is 12th-grader Cid Phillips. He got his first taste for drama in elementary school, and he’s been chasing it ever since.
“I got to be Grandpa Joe in a Willy Wonka play back in fifth grade. It was a really fun role, but I only went for it because I wasn’t sure what I could manage,” Phillips said. “Afterwards, I was left wanting more, and I wished I would’ve gone for Charlie.”
Fast-forward to high school, and there was no drama club at Taylor Middle High School.
“Ever since then, I’ve been begging for a theater class or club,” Phillips said. “There are more than enough kids at Taylor who need the outlet to express themselves and connect socially.”
Phillips said the club wouldn’t exist without Henderson, he said.
“I don’t recall having to do much convincing,” Phillips said. “In fact, I believe it may have been her idea.”
“They are such good kids,” Henderson said, “why not let them have a drama club?”
Now the club, with around 30 students, is putting together its first performances.
Their debut will be in a show for just their peers this month. It’s a period piece set in the 1990s called, appropriately, 90s High School Drama.
“It’s 20 10-minute plays for teens,” Henderson explained. “It’s very ’90s; it’s very cringey, and the kids are loving it because they get to wear clothes from the ’90s.”
But that show is mostly a warmup for the big event in March: Macbeth.
The Shakespeare play has a long reputation of being cursed; many won’t even refer to the play by name, calling it only “the Scottish Play.”
It’s a heck of a first play to tackle, especially on the drama club’s shoestring budget, but they’re eager to take it on.
They’ll be practicing their hearts out. The students currently meet three times a week. In the lead-up to Macbeth, they’ll start spending every lunch period, and every day they’re able to meet after school, prepping for the performance.
“This is going to be the first one in 10 years, so these kids are putting their everything into it,” Henderson said.
Students from the school’s sewing club — which shares members with the drama club, in part because Henderson sponsors both clubs — are helping prepare some costume elements.
Some of the students are a bit nervous, but they’re powering through it.
Phillips, who used to dream of playing the lead, will be starring as Macbeth.
“I’m really excited, but definitely nervous,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of lines to memorize.”
When he graduates from high school this year, Phillips plans to finish off his associate degree. After graduation, he and his girlfriend plan to open a business specializing in “nerd stuff,” he said, such as the game Dungeons and Dragons, card games and more spiritual items like tarot cards and crystals.
Senior Emily Rokicki is playing Hecate in Macbeth. She’s used to performing in front of crowds; she plays the clarinet in the school’s band.
When Rokicki graduates in 2023, she plans to get her associate degree from Daytona State College and then pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Florida.
She’s thankful that the drama club exists now because it has taught her some valuable lessons.
“Being in drama club helps you build amazing relationships, and it helps you learn that making mistakes is good,” Rokicki said. “That’s how you learn from them and grow.”
Another 12th-grade student in the club is Breanna Hansen, who will play Lady Macbeth in March. Like some of her peers, she had wanted to participate in school theater, but there just wasn’t an outlet.
“Mrs. Henderson is absolutely amazing,” Hansen said. “She has been working so hard, and she deserves love and support.”
Hansen, who is also a musician, wants to be a touring musician when she graduates from high school next year. She plays the drums and teaches drum lessons, too.
The Taylor Drama Club performance of Macbeth will be staged for one night only at 6 p.m. Friday, March 24, in the auditorium of Taylor Middle-High School, 100 E. Washington Ave., Pierson. Tickets cost $1, and the show is open to the public.
The teacher behind the drama
DeLand native Virginia Henderson is midway through her first year of teaching at Taylor Middle-High School. She loves her students, but she didn’t always see herself as a teacher.
“I fell into doing education,” Henderson said. “I went to college to be an FBI agent. I have a criminal justice and homeland security degree.”
With a background like that, most people wouldn’t guess Henderson landed where she did.
“I walk into a building and I know the perimeters and exits,” she laughed. “It’s probably the opposite of teaching ninth-grade science.”
While Henderson isn’t working on the cold-case murders she dreamed of solving as a young adult, she’s still doing good.
“That’s all I want,” she said, “is someone to stop making a bad decision because of something crazy I tell them.”
Helping students turn their energy in positive directions is part of that. So, when students come to her looking to start a club, she’s quick to capitulate.
First it was the Taylor Strategy Club, which is fueled, in part, by her own love of games. Henderson co-sponsors the club, where students play everything from board games to Dungeons and Dragons, and senior Cid Phillips serves as the club’s president.
Next was the sewing club, which students from the strategy club expressed interest in.
“They wanted to learn how to cosplay, like make their own costumes and stuff,” Henderson explained.
The drama club is her latest effort.
Now, Henderson is a permanent substitute teacher for her ninth-grade science class, but she’s working on getting her teaching certification so she can be a fully fledged teacher.
“I’m excited to see these kids, and watch them grow and blossom into these amazing little individuals,” Henderson said.