Teacher by day, director by night: Let him tell you how it works

Franklin High School will present Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” on March 16-18. The musical will be under the direction of Jeff Sams, and the pit orchestra will be directed by Josh Long. Showtimes are 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for adults, and $8 for seniors. Franklin High School is located at 750 E. 4th St. in Franklin.

We spoke with Sams, teacher and theater director at Franklin High School, to find out more about his role and the upcoming production of “Sweeney Todd.” In addition to teaching English, speech and theater courses at the school, Sams directs the Franklin High School Drama Club.


Q: Tell us about yourself?

A: I am a 2006 graduate of Franklin High School and a 2010 graduate of Miami University with a degree in English Language Arts Education and a minor in Theatre Arts. I currently teach English, speech and theater courses at Franklin High School in Franklin. I am passionate about student growth, literacy, and writing. I coordinate the theater program at Franklin High School and personally direct and produce all three school productions each year.

Our Thespian Troupe (1569) is active at the local and state levels. Outside of school, I am a director and performer associated with several theater and opera companies in Dayton. I received my EMC status with Actor’s Equity in 2013. In 2016, I was honored as a recipient of the “Project Excellence Teaching Award.”

In 2017, I received a Master of Arts in Theatre from Regent University and became a College Credit Plus instructor through Sinclair Community College. Most recently, I was chosen to direct the theater program for the 2018 Chickasaw Arts Academy summer institute in Ada, Oklahoma. I will be a resident educator and direct their summer musical in July.

I have a wife of almost five years, Leah, who is a seventh-grade math teacher and a wonderful supporter.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: My days are usually packed. I teach English and theater classes most of the day and roll right into rehearsals after school. If the schedule is tight, I might be running two rehearsals on a given evening.

Q: What are some of your hobbies, past times? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

A: I love to travel. My wife and I are always driving or flying somewhere. New York for the sights and the shows, Tennessee for the lake and the quiet, Florida for the sun and the fun. I also like to have time to be on stage myself as well.

Q: What inspired you to get involved/to want to be part of the theater/drama program at the high school?

A: I guess this is always what I wanted to do. I performed in my first play in the ninth grade and I guess the bug just bit me. As the years went by, more and more, I knew I wanted this to be a part of my life and a part of what I do. I had the option to pursue a career as an actor, but the road led me to education, and I love what I do. The best part is that I can direct and work with kids here at the high school level and still perform as a professional from time to time. I get the best of both worlds.

Q: What does your role entail and what has your experience been like?

A: I direct and produce each production here at Franklin High School. That involves lot of planning, many meetings, and hiring staff to help support the productions. I also use my contacts in the community to acquire props and set pieces, locate volunteer choreographers and customers, and find ways to give our students a high-quality experience with what would be a small budget for some bigger programs. The experience is great. I am constantly being challenged by each project and I love that. Those challenges translate to meaningful challenges for my students as well.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your role?

A: The kids are the best part. Their growth, commitment, heart, and passion make everything I do worthwhile.

Q: How do you feel theater/drama benefits the students?

A: Theater is a practical application of all things. Math, science, history, speaking and listening, literature, technology, teamwork, problem solving, and a growth mindset are all part of what we do. It’s less about the product and more about the experience. These kids learn to do things they never knew they were capable of and they feel welcome here. That is one reason our program is growing so fast.

Q: What would you hope students would gain after being involved in the theater program at Franklin High School?

A: I hope they have an appreciation for art and (a) connection with others. These are invaluable tools for the future of our culture and community.

Q: Currently you’re gearing up for “Sweeney Todd.” Why did you want to do this production? How has it been going as far as rehearsals and the students getting ready for the show?

A: “Sweeney Todd” is one of my favorite shows. It’s one of the greatest pieces of American musical theater. I knew the students would be challenged by the music and the material and I (thought) it would be totally different from any other musical they had done here. The rehearsals have been great. The story can be seen as grim, but our focus has been on telling the story of a man who has lost everything in his life and is fighting to regain a part of himself. This has fueled our discussions and the choices the actors make. We chose to produce the school edition of the show for reasons of content and music. That combined with the students’ mature and respectful attitudes have helped make this process a success so far.

Q: Talk specifically about the upcoming production, “Sweeney Todd.” Why would you encourage the community to come out and see the show?

A: Come out and see something totally different. The show is a thriller and is probably too intense for small children, but the music is beautiful, and the story is exciting.

Q: What can audiences expect from the evening?

A: The audience can expect an edge of their seat thriller with fantastic music performed by the most talented students in our school. If you love the action and suspense of modern shows like CSI or Criminal Minds, this will be great fun for you. I would also like to explain that the Tim Burton film is not a good representation of what the stage musical really is. Burton’s film is far too violent and bloody. It goes too far. That’s not what the audience will see on our stage.

Q: How can we find out more about the upcoming production Sweeney Todd?

A: Here is the link to the web site https://www.franklincityschools.com/franklin-high-school/fine-arts-9/

Contact this contributing writer at gmwriteon@aol.com.

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