Mosle: What is the best advice you’ve received as a teacher?
Friedman: At Capuchino, I had a really good mentor who told me that teachers need to be involved in their schools. A lot of teachers like to close their doors and do their own thing. But he put me on a bunch of committees. I was on the finance committee and on the teacher leader committee. He said you have to do that, because you want to be in a position to make decisions.
Mosle: How has the profession changed since you started?
Friedman: Art, for one, is more accessible. There are just all these different platforms and streaming services. The interconnectivity is different: how it shrinks the world, and how someone can be a star on Instagram or TikTok.
The kids are also more grown-up. When I was starting out, I was always having to remind kids, “Stop it with the racist, sexist, homophobic language in your improvisations,” and they always looked at me like, “What?” And now there is so much more sensitivity to that, which is wonderful. At the same time, kids are on social media so much they don’t know how to interact with each other, and drama forces them to do that—to speak out loud and to each other.
There’s also been a growing emphasis on student wellness over the past 20 years, as a result of the Columbine shootings. Teachers are no longer just providers of content. More than ever, we have to help students navigate through crisis management. I remember when 9/11 happened; all we did that day in my class was put up a big TV screen, and I said, ‘If anybody wants to talk about this, or if anybody has questions about this….’ When there were the shootings in Florida, the kids got together in the morning for a rally outside the theater, and we watched and listened as they found their voice. We try to find ways for students to express themselves—free writes like crazy!
Mosle: When do you rehearse your shows?
Friedman: We have always rehearsed at night from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m, and as late as 11 p.m. the week before a play opens. And four hours on Saturdays for the bigger shows from August through February, and then in the afternoons for a smaller show from February to April. That’s on top of my regular teaching from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. That’s basically been my schedule for 28 years. I sometimes see the kids more than their parents do.
Mosle: How did you adjust your teaching when school went online in March?
Friedman: I’m a big murder-mystery nut. So every year, the final project for my drama students is to write their own mystery and perform it. We were just starting that [when classes went online]. So we tried to do it virtually, but it was challenging. One group really embraced writing their own script to perform virtually. They had identical props to create the illusion they were passing an item between Zoom boxes. When one character had his death scene, they had the computer topple at an oblique angle. With the other four groups, I put together a couple of old radio scripts—classic detective stories. I met with them each week to go through a rehearsal, to talk over what’s different now. You don’t have your body anymore, and you don’t have scenery.