Mt. Juliet Middle School theater teacher Julie Groover wanted to go out with a bang this spring. She had announced her retirement from teaching and was looking forward to her students’ performance of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”
The performance has been postponed to the fall, and teacher Stephanie Allen will take over as director. The show would have been Groover’s 17th show at the school.
“I am so sad it is ending on this note, but I have so many new relationships and memories from this job that are wonderful,” she said. “It helps to be able to go to YouTube and watch old shows and remember those kids who are all in my heart.
“For almost 10 years I had the job of my dreams. I loved every minute of it. I am so sad to leave this profession and this school.
Groover said she plans to get her real estate license and hopes to be able to work as a freelance director and choreographer at local theaters and schools.
Groover has been at the school since 2010 when she began as a math teacher. She began teaching theater in 2012. Prior to that she was a preschool teacher.
She was asked to take over the theater class in 2010. She originally said “no” because she didn't want to move from math, but she was talked into it and “I loved it from day one,” she said.
She’s directed a number of shows including “Into the Woods Jr.”, “Aladdin Jr.”, “Seussical Jr.,”, “The Little Mermaid Jr.”, “Fame Jr.”, “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”, “The Lion King Jr.”, “High School Musical Jr.”, “Annie Jr.”, “Madagascar Jr.”, “Elf Jr.”, “Mary Poppins Jr.”, “Peter Pan Jr.” and “Frozen Jr.”
Junior shows are shorter than a full-length musical, normally around an hour long.
Groover said she designed lights, costumes and the set, but the students help her.
“I have a tech team who works light board as well as four spotlights,” she said. “(MJMS music teacher) Vicky Williams makes a ton of costumes after the kids and I make decisions on color and what styles we like.
“(Teacher) Melanie Wrye builds all of the sets and most of the props. For the last two shows, I have been blessed to have an assistant director, Stephanie Allen. My husband and I run 19 headset mics during shows. (There are) lots of puzzle pieces to make it all a good fit.”
She said the stage manager and crew manager (Madeline Sheehy and Ramsey Spence for the postponed spring show)
“These two girls are trained on every job and then they help the kids stay silent backstage while in communication with me,” Groover said. “I never go backstage during the shows. I train my managers to be proactive and make quick decisions. I'm always so proud of them.”
Groover said that a Wilson County Schools policy change a little over a year ago decreased the value of the theater department.
“It (policy change) directly affected the quality and level of education of the theater kids and changed everything,” she said. “They not only removed the advanced theater classes as well as the CDC connection class (for students with disabilities) and tech class, but theater kids were no longer permitted to take the class every semester like before.”
She said she was determined to make the new policies work by teaching all show-related material (dance, vocals, blocking, tech) during rehearsal time.
“I was also determined to enjoy teaching basic theater class to each grade level. Since theater classes are now random placement for this department, over half of them don't even want to be in the theater class which makes teaching this art pretty difficult and quite underwhelming,” she said.