Greg Shaw was excited to recently receive the KNEA Human and Civil Rights Award, but doesn’t think it’s quite appropriate.
“My name is on it, but it’s really a program award,” said the Pittsburg High School theater teacher.
He was recognized for his work in developing awareness of many social issues through plays produced by his students.
“It’s interesting that this has such an impact,” Shaw said. “Yes, a huge musical has quite an impact at getting students and families to entertainment. It’s easy to give the glitz and glamor and fun stuff attention, but there are real issues that we see in our halls.”
His work with social issue shows began in his second year at PHS, when he and his students did “Bang Bang You’re Dead,” a play dealing with school violence.
“There was a talk-back session after the play, and that’s when I realized this was more important than I had thought,” he said. “There was some apprehension on the part of some people about it, but I firmly believe that entertainment educates, and most important, it starts conversations.”
The following year, he and his students did “Phat Girls” by Debbie Lamedman, an all-woman show which explores eating disorders, body image and healthy choices.
“We had a student who asked permission to talk to the class after the show,” Shaw said. “She told us that was in a program to battle an eating disorder, and part of it was to share her story. I knew then that we had to keep this going. I wanted to do an environmental play, and Debbie Lamedman asked if I had considered commissioning a piece. I had not, but we figured out a way to make it work.”
That play was “Ignorance is Bliss: A Global Warning,” which debuted at PHS on April 21, 2010.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with Debbie over the years,” Shaw said.
Those conversations between him, his students and Lamedman have led to plays including “Everyday People,” which deals with bullying, performed in April of 2011; “Rx,” dealing with prescription drug abuse among teens, in April of 2012; and “You Belong to Me,” about dating violence, which premiered in April of 2013.
Coming up will be the latest collaboration, “Snowflakes,” with Lamedman traveling to Pittsburg for the world premiere. Students will perform the show, which explores autism and other disabilities at 8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. April 25. The playwright will take part in talk-back sessions and conduct a masters acting class with PHS theater students.
“We’ve had all these conversations over the years and we’re finally going to meet,” Shaw said. “This is all made possible financially through grants from Promising Practices in Character Education. This is doing a great deal to bring Debbie here.”
He praised others, including USD 250, school administration and other faculty members and staff for their support of theater programs.
“Our administration is wonderful,” Shaw said. “They bend over backwards to see we have everything we need. Our students take it personally whether or not we’re doing good theater. There are not many schools in this area, let along the country, that are doing things to allow students to have these experiences. That’s a big tribute to the people inside these walls.”
He added that he appreciates support from Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium and its staff, including Jason Huffman and Linden Little, and all the PHS fine arts faculty. Denise Williams works with students on the technical side of Shaw’s plays.
He credits others, including the late Robert Tindel, who had taught at St. Mary’s Colgan High School and PHS, and Joella Reid, who is retiring this year from Pittsburg Community Middle School, for paving the way to create a thriving school theater community.
“I’m proud to put my little stamp on it,” Shaw said.
He’s nearing the end of his eighth year at PHS.
“This is also my first teaching job,” he said. “I grew up in Kansas City, and still go back there in the summer and do some directing. We also lived in Chicago a year, but I like the size of Pittsburg as a community and a school.”
His wife, Dr. Angela Shaw, and talented daughter McKenna Shaw, a PCMS student, also like the community.
“I don’t think we’re planning on going anywhere,” Shaw said.