Beloved Teacher Closes the Curtain on Her Role as Director of MHS Theatre Productions
Skillman resident Tara Handschin has shared a love of theater with her students and the Montgomery community-at-large for 27 years, as director of the annual school musical. This spring, she announced she will step down as a director, but she will continue to teach theater and public speaking at Montgomery High School and in the Upper Middle School.
During the 52 shows Handschin directed, she gave students a place to shine; a place to grow in confidence and talent; to develop courage and discipline; and, a place to share their voices and be heard.
Her students have gone on to pursue a variety of careers, and many say Handschin has changed their lives for good.
What better measure of a quality teacher, than to have students who have gone on to successful careers as actors, engineers, professors, social workers, financiers, and more, each taking with them the valuable skills of personal confidence, public speaking, and an appreciation of the arts and a creative way to view the world.
Handschin’s most important advice to actors and students who do everything in her classes and plays from performing commercials to doing mock job interviews and presentations:
No gum! If you are chewing gum or have anything in your mouth, 25 points will be deducted from your grade.
But, seriously, Handschin has left a lasting positive impact on thousands of students who say they are grateful for her dedication and talents.
Below are just a few of the many feathers in her cap.
Cameron Busacca, MHS Class of 2007, and currently a PhD student in International Education Policy at the University of Maryland, says:
“I wasn’t sure I would like being in a musical, but I found I loved the atmosphere that Ms. Handschin created. She was passionate and serious, but also loved laughing with all of us. Despite lacking confidence in myself, Ms. Handschin continued to give me challenging roles and I found I truly loved performing. I cannot thank her enough for encouraging me to take a chance on theater.”
Other students say they learned the craft of theater, but found a home in the Performing Arts Center.
Katie Meola, MHS Class of 2009, is currently a Bilingual Immigration Law Advocate with the Catholic Immigration Law Project in St. Louis, MO. She says: “Ms. Handschin made everyone feel part of her big, wacky family. In such a big school, it was so important to have that place where I belonged.”
Abby Meola, MHS Class of 2016, (and Katie’s sister), expects to earn her bachelor’s degree in science communications from Stevens Institute of Technology in May. She says: “Ms. Handschin supported each of us and helped us to grow as actors and people.”
Another sign of a teacher’s success is inspiring students to follow their passion. Meagan Sisler, MHS Class of 2015, earned a bachelor’s degree in drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2019. Tisch is one of the nation’s leading centers for professional training in the performing arts.
“Thanks to Ms. Handschin, what started as a fun seventh grade elective has evolved into a career in, and lifelong commitment to the arts,” Sisler says. “Although I have studied drama under many wonderful teachers, not one could ever take her place in my heart.”
Mary Sisler, MHS Class of 2019 (and sister of Meagan) says Handschin inspired her too. She says: “Ms. Handschin showed me what it meant to make magic happen on a stage. Getting to be a part of her productions was the favorite part of my four years at Montgomery High School.”
“I am thankful to Ms. Handschin, for all she has done for me and for every other student who has stepped onto the MHS stage.”
Logan Riley, MHS Class of 2020, who had the lead in this spring’s production of Catch Me If You Can, said: “Throughout my time with Ms. Handschin I learned so much about myself by being challenged to do my best. I always knew I was welcomed in MHS, but I found a home in the theater. I am grateful to Ms. Handschin for everything she has done for me and others; inspiring us to shine on stage.”
Handschin earned her bachelor’s degree in theatre, communication, and education from Rutgers University. She began her teaching career for the Montgomery School District in September 1993.
While Handschin will continue to teach, her last directorial effort was Catch Me If You Can in February. The show was received by large, enthusiastic audiences.
Handschin made sure to choose a variety of shows that would appeal to all ages. From Alice in Wonderland and Little Mermaid to The Mousetrap and Mamma Mia, she brought an appreciation for live theater to the community.
In her final director’s note in the Catch Me If You Can program book, Handschin said:
“How many people can say they get paid to do what they love? The lucky ones! I am very grateful and fortunate to be one of them. I get to work with exciting and talented students who challenge me to bring my A game and I marvel at their energy and passion. It is very rewarding to see a young student start in the program and watch them grow as an actor.”
She went on to say, “A huge thank you to all that have had a hand in helping with each production through my years! It is a team effort to bring a show to the stage and I have been surrounded by gifted people on each production.”
Handschin showed how well she understood each aspect of the theater – the sets, costumes, lighting, and music – to balance her directing skills to bring out the best in her students.
“Tara Handschin has the creative vision to imagine new and innovative settings for the plays and musicals, and her energy and guidance was evident whether she was directing actors; coordinating music, lighting, or sound; arranging for props; or securing the rights to each play or musical,” says Skillman resident C. Peter Kauzmann, stage crew supervisor. “I will miss the vision, sensitivity, and leadership she brought to every production we worked on.”
Handschin has directed and appeared as the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz several times, among other roles and has enjoyed being in several MHS Music from the Heart productions.
She is also a content instruction specialist in theatre for Princeton University. ■
Handschin’s Top 10 reasons to take a Drama Class at MHS:
1 Improve your acting
2. Develop a greater appreciation for theatre
3. Strengthen your memorization skills
4. Improve your study skills
5. Develop organizational skills
6. Enhance your imagination
7. Gain confidence
8. To have richer experience when watching a performance
9. Make new friends
10. See a Broadway show