McBurney Expands Students’ Horizons

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Inspiration is Christine McBurney’s business.

Students who find themselves in classes with the Theatre Arts Department chairwoman are inspired by both their teacher and the filmmakers and writers she brings to the high school.  

McBurney teaches Junior Ensemble, Drama Literature and Writing, Theatre I and Theatre II. In these classes, students learn theatre vocabulary, history, play writing, acting and directing. And through McBurney’s connections and effort, they learn how professionals use those skills to make art and make lives.

McBurney came to Shaker 10 years ago and assumed leadership of a prominent theatre arts program.  She observed that the department was “successful in really trying to teach and really trying to reach young people and put on a good production at the same time.”

A decade later, she’s still impressed.

“I’m still blown away by the level these students are at,” she said.

Senior Jonah Weinstein is one of those students. He has been active in theatre for four years. McBurney has taught him in IB Theatre and Playwriting, and he has participated in three-fourths of the main stage plays and every New Stages production during his time at the high school.

“She’s taught me to appreciate the process and not just the product,” Weinstein said.

McBurney has also taught senior Allegra Verlezza for the past four years.

“She’s very inspiring. She really makes me believe I can pursue a career in playwriting,” Verlezza said.

Since joining the department, McBurney has directed “Twelfth Night,” “Into the Woods,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Ragtime,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Metamorphoses” and “Wonderful Town.” McBurney is also the artistic director of New Stages, an annual spring collection of plays written, directed and performed by students.

 “She has inspired me to pursue theatre and to follow my passions, especially while I’m young,” Weinstein said.

In addition to teaching a broad curriculum covering all aspects of theatre, McBurney reaches beyond the high school to enhance her students’ experiences. McBurney has performed and directed in many capacities throughout Cleveland. Over the years, she has forged connections with professionals who later accepted her invitations to visit the high school.

Most recently, McBurney organized the first Shaker Film Forum. Filmmakers and writers Jamie Babbit (‘87), Karey Dornetto, Robert Banks and Eric Swinderman visited theatre classes Feb. 16 to discuss their professional experiences. 

Babbit, who was active in Shaker’s Theatre Department, has directed episodes of shows such as “Ugly Betty,” “Gossip Girl,” “90210” and “The Middle.” She directed the film “The Quiet” and directed and wrote the story for “But I’m a Cheerleader.”

In a press release for the event, McBurney stated, “I wanted to share these incredible people, who make their livings writing and directing, with my students.”

Students agree that events such as the forum benefit their experience in theatre.

 “Theatre is collaborative, and it allows you to get to know other people [participating in the industry], as well as their strengths and weaknesses,” Weinstein said.

 McBurney said that events such as the Film Forum help inspire students, rather than being a simple presentation.

“When they hear their stories, if this is the career that they want to pursue, I think they are going to be able to see themselves in the future,” she said. “I think if my students can find a path that feeds their souls — whether that’s in the arts or finance — as long as they can find passion in their work [that would be success].”

McBurney stated that teaching is her favorite part of her career in theatre. She said, “This world needs more artists.”

A version of this article appeared in print on 28 February 2011, on page 10 of The Shakerite.

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