Performing arts teachers’ previous careers inspire their curriculums



Dance teacher Christen Polos, who has been dancing since high school, leaps alongside former dance teacher Kathleen Exar.

Muriel Statman, Staff Writer

“It’s something that I have always loved and been passionate about. Performing, but also the magic of it,” Drama teacher Summer Williams said. “My grandmother will tell you that it is because she took me to see a play when I was three at an apple farm. I have no idea if it’s true. The ‘seed’ came from somewhere.”

Performing arts teachers at the high school use their own expertise and passion in their fields to not only teach and practice what they love, but to coach and prepare their students to use their artistry in the outside world.

Drama teacher Summer Williams developed an admiration for theater starting from a young age, and stressed the importance that different mentors from high school played in her career as a performer.

“I met a mentor of mine named Wesley Montgomery when I was 15, and he just blew my 15-year-old mind when it came to theater,” Williams said. “There’s theater for entertainment sake, and there’s theater to help us understand something about the world. That was the first time I felt like I was engaging theater that was helping me understand.”

Throughout college, Williams worked on acting and performing. At the age of 19 she started a theater company, called Company One Theatre, with some of her friends. The company’s goal is to create thought provoking and innovative performances, and still functions in Boston today.

Directly after college, Williams began teaching and came to the high school. Throughout her career, Williams has directed for the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Clark University, Brandeis University, The Theatre Offensive and Huntington Theatre Company.

As a teacher, Williams has applied her growth as an artist to the classroom and believes that it has had a big impact.

“I am constantly doing the things that I’m talking about in my classroom and bringing my experience from outside into the room,” Williams said. “It’s super dope to have had a passion when I was a teenager and to figure out how to turn that passion into a career.”

Another instructor with decades of training and professional work is dance teacher Christien Polos. Polos started with musical theater, but eventually trained in dance after a teacher advised him in high school.

“She came up to me and said, ‘I think you really need to start training in dance. I think you could really do this,’” Polos said. “She said, ‘If you want to do musical theater, if you’re a good dancer, you’re going to get more jobs.’”

Polos took dance classes in high school and decided to pursue dancing further through San Francisco Ballet’s dance program. Polos majored in theater and minored in dance at San Francisco State University.

Throughout Polos’ professional dance career, he danced with the Ruth Landrige Dance Company in San Francisco and the Eric Hawkins studio in New York, before coming to Boston.

In Boston, he danced with Impulse Dance Company, Danny Sloan Dance Company, DanceWorks and ACE Entertainment out of The Jeannette Neill Dance Studio. From 1988 to 1991, Polos had his own company called Ariel Dance Theatre.

At the age of 38, Polos decided to retire from dancing and become a teacher.

“Once you make that decision as a dancer, it has got to be a mental shift,” Polos said. “My normal for 17 years was get up, go take ballet class every morning, have rehearsals and then I would teach at least one class a night, so I would be going from 9:00 to 9:00.”

As a teacher, Polos incorporates his training into his teaching methods.

“My experience in both musical theater and dance meshed a lot,” Polos said. “I really started to choreograph when I was hired to choreograph for theater. That’s still prevalent in my choreography. I look for a pattern first, and then I look at who I have.”

Not only has his choreography been affected, but his teaching style has as well. Polos said that his experiences have made him look at dancers in a different way.

“Dance is not one thing,” Polos said. “I want to expose my dancers to things that they may have never been exposed to.”

Choral teacher Michael Driscoll has spent the past 15 years at the high school. However, Driscoll was not always keen on pursuing a career in music. Driscoll was at first an engineering major and earned a masters in engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, but learned that he wasn’t enthusiastic about it.

“I was just staring at the clock all day, and I just realized it was not for me,” Driscoll said.

After spending six years on engineering, he finally decided to switch gears into conducting.

“The hardest decision for me was deciding to quit my engineering job to go back and do a masters in conducting,” Driscoll said. “I wasn’t sure if I would be completely out of my league doing one. I just thought if I don’t do it, I’ll regret it forever. So I just went for it.”

Michael Driscoll majored in engineering in college. Now, he has a doctorate in music and teaches Advanced Placement Music Theory and piano classes and conducts the school choirs.

Driscoll received a master’s degree in conducting at the New England Conservatory and later a Doctor of Musical Arts from Boston University. According to Driscoll, the decision to get a doctorate was an important step in his career.

“It was something that I had been interested in and wanted to do, but it is a huge time and financial commitment. But it was one of those things I knew if I don’t do it now, then I will never do it,” Driscoll said.  

This training allowed for him to design a curriculum to teach his students in a way that he sees effective.

“I think that my approach to teaching is very methodical and almost scientific in a way,” Driscoll said. “It’s something that I have thought very hard about: how to teach concepts in a way that is very sequential so that people can understand it, starting with very little knowledge.”

All three teachers use what they know to fulfill their main goal: preparing their students for a satisfying career, no matter what it may be.  

“Every person deserves to figure out what they’re passionate about and then be able to figure out how to make that their life’s work so that there’s fulfillment and joy in what you’re doing,” Williams said. “That’s important.”