Spotlight on David Tate Hastings

interview

{Header David Tate Hastings and his son. Photo by Angie Fiedler Sutton.}

Note: this article will be published in the February 2011 issue of KC Stage Magazine.

If there’s one word David Tate Hastings uses to describe his involvement in theatre, it’s ‘passion’.

“I love what I do,” he says. “I’m passionate about it. The passion hopefully is in my voice when I’m talking to the kids. I think when you really love something, kids can see that. And when they get a taste of it, it’s just – you know this as a theatre person – it’s addictive.”

Growing up in Kansas City, Hastings got into theatre indirectly.

“My mother took me to drama classes when I was in preschool so I would be comfortable with public speaking when I became a doctor. Unfortunately for her, the drama stuck and I’ve been in drama ever since.”

However, he didn’t start teaching drama right away. He worked in a bank when he graduated school, and after meeting his wife decided to stay in Kansas.

“I was assuming I would move away and get my MFA and end up I assume in New York,” he says, “but life changed. One day I woke up at the bank five and a half years later in a corner office and I had three secretaries and a huge staff and was in charge of different branches of the bank in the retail section in Lawrence, and I said, ‘What in the heck am I doing here?'” He credits his wife, a math teacher, for giving him the inspiration to become a math teacher. “[She] was having great fun going to school, coming up with creative ways to teach math, and I thought, ‘Well, if you can be creative teaching math and enjoy that, I can be creative teaching theatre and do that.'” He went to Ottawa University, student taught with Phil Kinen, taught in Lawrence for three years, and then through a friendship with Eric Magnus found out about the job at Olathe South – and he’s been there ever since.

Olathe South High School. Photo by David Holmes, used via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

“I like how I can help kids grow as people and as artists,” Hastings says. “I just wish that there were more people that I could work with in the school to help kids, because I think the program would just grow and grow and grow and grow. I mean, my goal every year is to have ten percent of our student body involved with theatre, and I’ve achieved that every single year. And you know, if there were more of me, the school literally could hire ten teachers and I think we could fill up the classes. Kids love it. It’s not whether you’re going to go on and be an actor or director in life, it’s learning responsibility and it’s learning that you can achieve great things when you work with a group of people and that you can see problems in new and different ways and how to function on a schedule. For me, it’s a life skill – theatre becomes a life skill.”

Olathe South has the main stage and a black box, and Hastings tries to pick shows not only to work with the talents he has each year but also to expand the minds of the students. “There are so many shades of different plays that are out there that really what I’m trying to do each time I pick a show is to pick something different and expose the kids to different kinds of theatre,” Hastings says. “I just think the more ways that I can challenge the kids to think, to not settle in and feel like there is one way to do theatre or there is one kind of theatre that’s out there, the better. There’s a broader world of theatre out there than high school theatre, and I want them to be prepared for their future. I don’t want them to just love high school theatre: I want them to love theatre for the rest of their life.”

Hastings obviously has a knack for the role: his first year at Olathe South was also the first year of the Starlight’s Blue Star Awards, and that first year they were up for best show. And in 2007, Hastings won the award for Outstanding Direction. “I’m kind of glad they got rid of that award,” he says, “because I just love that it celebrates kids.”

Hastings’ modesty comes to the front (not for the first time) as he continues. “I feel so silly that you’re interviewing me, because I love theatre, and I love that I get to do theatre, but it’s about teaching and learning, it’s about the experience and the process of it, and hopefully along the way some really magical things happen. We do some really nice shows, but. I’m hoping to inspire kids to go on and do things and create things that they’re proud of as well.”

Hastings also works with the Kansas Thespian Festival, a state festival for high schools and educators that involve workshops and performances (more information on the festival can be found at www.kansasthespians.com). This started back when he was in Lawrence, when fellow drama teacher Jeanne Averill suggested he take the kids that year.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” he says. “I’d never been. It was just an amazing experience to see a thousand high school kids from around the state of Kansas come together, and for the high school kids to see that there are other people just like you out there, and there are a lot of people just like you out there that love the same thing that you love. And honestly, even at the thespian conference, it’s only a small percentage of all the kids who love theatre across Kansas.” So, he says, when he got the job at Olathe, he started asking how he could help. He served on the board as well as helping out with the conference, including teaching some of the workshops.

Hastings makes sure that all aspects of theatre are taught to his students – including the technical side. “There are so many kids who want to be in theatre that I have never had trouble getting kids to do tech. I have enough kids that love theatre that I say, ‘Hey, you know, not everybody can be on stage, and if you want to be involved in theatre, there’s a lot of room to be on theatre on the other side.’ Technicians are needed, and it’s just as much of an art. The set is a character in the play, and the sound is a character in the play, and the lights color the mood of the show,” he says. This extends to having a student assistant director for each production as well as casting on talent, only keeping in mind the grade if it’s a close casting decision. In fact, the student playing Ren in Footloose, performing February 3 – 5, is a freshman.

“I’m just passionate about the entire show. I guess I’m a director at heart. I see the whole thing: I watch the actors, and they may be great, and they may have great energy, and they may look great and they may sound great, but they’re nothing without the material around them.

“What gives me inspiration is an idea to build a show on,” Hastings says. “When I found the thing that I think the show is about, then it gets exciting, then I get passionate about the show.”

Hastings can’t see any other life than theatre. “I just love theatre,” he says. “I can’t think of anything else I would rather do. I like memorizing, I like painting, I like creating, I like directing, I like creating something, and I love tearing it down. I love looking at the blank stage right now and thinking about what I can do next. And I love that feeling of accomplishment and that you could do it over and over again and that every day is different, every show is different, and yet the things that we’re working on I can use to go apply for a job or I can use to build a fort for my kids in the back yard or I can use to paint something or … I just love it.”

David Tate Hasings will not only be directing Footloose at Olathe South in February, but has been selected as director for The Theatre in the Park’s production of Les Miserables – School Edition. Check out Olathe South at http://teachers.olatheschools.com/~dhastingsos/.