UPDATE, June 9, 2015
Wrangler News congratulates Corey Mitchell of Northwest School for the Arts in North Carolina, the recipient of the Excellence in Theatre Education Award — as well as to Marcos de Niza’s own Patrick McChesney, who was one of the finalists for the award.
One of the nominees at this year’s Tony Awards, being broadcast the evening of Sunday, June 7, has roots in the south Tempe community, as does the work for which he was nominated.
Marcos de Niza High School drama teacher Patrick McChesney has been nominated for the inaugural Excellence in Theatre Education Award, a presentation of the Tonys and Carnegie Mellon University.
McChesney, a 17-year veteran of Tempe Union High School District, took a few minutes recently to discuss his work with Wrangler News.
Congratulations on your nomination; can you tell us about the process that was involved?
I was not in on the process but I do know that students could either write a 500-word essay or a one-minute video entry plus three references, and whatever was entered on my behalf was enough to move me to the second round of nominees (1 of 40).
I only found out this information after the Tony awards sent me an email saying that I had been nominated.
Can you tell us about your background? I grew up in Lincoln, Neb. My first experience with acting was in Mrs. Sell’s 5th grade class, where I was cast as the Big Bad Wolf in the Trial of the Big Bad Wolf. Prior to that experience, I was not very successful in school since I was diagnosed as “hyper-active” and could not focus on anything, except driving my teachers to exhaustion.
However, Mrs. Sell changed my life and showed me something that I could invest in, focus on and put all my energy into.
I also had an amazing high school theater teacher, Mr. Rexilius, at Lincoln Christian High School that made it both challenging and fun. After that, I had to experience life a bit before I decided to go to Arizona State University to study my passion, theater. There I met Johnny Saldana, my role model and mentor for life. Somewhere in there is when I decided to teach theater as opposed to pursuing the stage as an actor. After graduating in 1998,
I taught two years at Desert Vista High School and then moved to Marcos de Niza in the fall of 2000. I also received my Masters in Education in 2008 from ASU. I love Marcos de Niza and working for the Tempe Union High School District. We have such incredible students and supportive parents at Marcos de Niza High School and that is what makes our productions special. I hate sounding like I am bragging, but one of my favorite things to hear from audience members is that they cannot believe that the performers were high schoolers. That alone makes us feel like we are all doing something right.
Can you tell us about any of your former students who have gone on to theatrical careers?
We have a student in Los Angeles working in theater after going to NYU, and now doing some TV to pay the bills; a student in New York at Marymount Manhattan College; a light student and a sound student working in New York; one as an assistant sound designer on Broadway designing for shows such as Grease, Seussical, Curtains, The Last Ship, Book of Mormon, etc.; and others acting in community theaters all over in Arizona and California.
A few (are) pursuing theater or music education to pay it forward. Mostly though, I know a lot of our students will not become actors or theater designers or pursue anything in theater, and that is alright. My hope is that they leave high school and maintain a love for theater and can always find comfort, joy and appreciation for the art form.
Can you tell us about some current students you’re particularly impressed by?
Well, we just graduated a few, but I would have to say Peiton Bursh has an amazing singing voice and is going to New York to pursue it at American Musical and Dramatic Academy. I would also say that Tuni Hernandez and Zach Mauck have an amazing sense of comedy and will rob the world of their humor if they do not collaborate at some point in their lives by writing for theater, television or film; and many students that I wish would continue on in theater or music but have unfortunately talked themselves out of the “starving artist” lifestyle to pursue a career that will provide a good life for themselves and future families.
Next year, we are excited about what the “previously outnumbered” sophomores and juniors will be bringing to the stage. I would like to thank Julie Hackman (theater instructor) at KMS and Meg Arredondo (choir instructor) at Fees College Preparatory Middle School for continually holding students to high standards and encouraging them to refine their amazing talents in high school.
What do you consider the mission of a drama educator?
To challenge students to become more than they ever thought possible to believe that they can achieve at a high level and never give up trying. To develop a love for life and an appreciation for theater. Ultimately, to become better human beings by experiencing life through the eyes of different characters, from different locations, having different beliefs/morals, but all sharing similar dreams, desires and heartaches, connecting us all.