Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater

Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater

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by Michael Sokolove
     
 

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Friday Night Lights meets Glee—the incredible and true story of an extraordinary drama teacher who has changed the lives of thousands of students and inspired a town.
 
Why would the multimillionaire producer of Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon take his limo from Manhattan to the struggling

Overview

Friday Night Lights meets Glee—the incredible and true story of an extraordinary drama teacher who has changed the lives of thousands of students and inspired a town.
 
Why would the multimillionaire producer of Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon take his limo from Manhattan to the struggling former steel town of Levittown, Pennsylvania, to see a high school production of Les Misérables? To see the show performed by the astoundingly successful theater company at Harry S Truman High School, run by its legendary director, Lou Volpe. Broadway turns to Truman High when trying out controversial shows like Rent and Spring Awakening before they move on to high school theater programs across the nation. Volpe’s students from this blue-collar town go on to become Emmy-winning producers, entertainment executives, newscasters, and community-theater founders. Michael Sokolove, a Levittown native and former student of Volpe’s, chronicles the drama director’s last school years and follows a group of student actors as they work through riveting dramas both on and off the stage. This is a story of an economically depressed but proud town finding hope in a gifted teacher and the magic of theater.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Alisa Solomon
…as much a personal memoir as it is equal parts admiring profile…tribute to the power of arts education and jeremiad on the evaporation of middle-class opportunity…[Sokolove] is conspicuously present, expressing astonishment at the work he witnesses, reflecting on his own upward trajectory and occasionally ranting, honorably, against the widening income gap and the "small-bore metrics" that have ruinously subsumed public education in recent years…Whether the fulfillment of a school's mission must rely on a few heroic teachers, rather than be addressed institutionally and systemically, is not Sokolove's subject. He shines a heartening light on how one of those passionate heroes devoted himself, as Volpe himself puts it, to educating, rather than training, young people.
Library Journal
09/15/2013
The auditorium of Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, PA, might seem an unlikely venue for a production that caught the eye of a Broadway producer like Sir Cameron Mackintosh, but that's exactly what happened when the school's theater teacher, Lou Volpe, directed its production of Les Misérables. The theater program at Truman has been so successful that when Music Theatre International, which licenses Broadway productions, looks for a school to pilot a high school version of a play, it often turns to the stage where the first high school versions of Rent and Spring Awakening were also performed. Sokolove (contributing writer, New York Times Magazine; The Ticket Out; Hustle; Warrior Girls) grew up in Levittown and is a former student of Volpe's, and that experience informs his narrative. He chronicles the on- and off-stage lives of Volpe (who just retired after 44 years at Truman) and his students and writes movingly of the challenges they faced. VERDICT You don't have to be a "Gleek" to enjoy this compelling account of the power of theater. [See Prepub Alert, 4/1/13.]—Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago
Kirkus Reviews
A journalist's account of the final years in a drama teacher's storied career at a high school in Levittown, Pa., a former mill city fallen on hard times. Harry S. Truman High was "at best, second rate," writes New York Times Magazine contributor Sokolove (Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports, 2008, etc.). But it was also the home of an acclaimed drama program that drew attention from the likes of Cameron Mackintosh, producer of such smash hits as Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon. The man behind the program, Lou Volpe, was the main reason for its amazing success. Sokolove follows his former teacher and two groups of students Volpe worked with at Truman High between 2010 and 2012. Demanding, complex and sensitive, Volpe, who was also Sokolove's high school English teacher, taught by instinct rather than formula. The main lesson he passed on to his students was that dramatic art was not just a way of expressing feelings, but also of "fully embracing, and understanding, life." Volpe never shied away from controversial subject matter, nor did he balk at having his students perform plays that had only been done by professional theater companies. In the two years the book covers, this gifted teacher brought two sexually explosive plays, Good Boys and True and Spring Awakening, to the Truman stage. Volpe showed his students, who ranged from drama "regulars" to athletes to talented unknowns, how to harness the discomfort that often characterized their lives and channel it into their art. The results were astonishing by most measures but ordinary by the Truman drama program's standards. Good Boys earned the class a berth at a prestigious high school theater festival, and Volpe's version of Spring Awakening received the nod from its Broadway producers to be performed at other high schools. A memorable, uplifting story about a man who helped students create meaning, hope and magic for themselves and their beleaguered community.

The drama program at Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania is not your average HS theatre project. For one thing, it's a national standout: Broadway producers travel to this unemployment plagued industrial town to see productions staged by its veteran drama director Lou Volpe. For another, its actors are not bound-for-glory rich kids; in the middle of rehearsal, you might expect to see one of the lead actors rush off stage and change into his or her Chick Fil-A uniform. Michael Sokolove's Drama High captures the brilliance, grit, and determination of an exemplary teacher and his awe-inspiring students. (P.S. This book has been described justly as "Friday Night Lights meets Glee." Unfortunately, it is also timely: Director Volpe retired in June.)

From the Publisher
Praise for Drama High

“Poignant...Captivating...[Sokolove] shines a heartening light on how one of those passionate heroes devoted himself...to educating, rather than training, young people.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A good reporter can make almost any story interesting. A great reporter makes it blossom. With the kind of diligent, thorough and imaginative reporting not seen enough these days, Sokolove not only brings a teacher, his students and their community to life, he also opens the story to larger matters.”—The Washington Post
 
“Sokolove's reporting tells an incredible tale about a brilliant, demanding and subversive teacher who practices the best kind of magic—the kind that's real and that changes lives. Drama High is both provocative and heart-warming...an excellent book for teachers or anyone interested in education and the power of theater. A gutsy high school English teacher might even recommend it to his or her students. ”—USA Today
  
“Required reading: for young people who can learn more about the challenge and rewards of theatre, for parents who may well need the same background, for anyone who doubts the value of theatre as an educational and character-building activity not only for those who would become professionals, for those who want to spark reveries of their own experiences in high school drama....Imagine if all of Glee sustained the level of quality and heart that characterized the story lines between Kurt and his dad, and you'll get a closer approximation of what Drama High achieves.”—The Huffington Post

“Sokolove sucks us in quickly....Drama High is a love letter to a brilliant educator and the crowd-pleasing tale of a quest for glory, but it's also an argument for arts education and a discussion of class.”—Newsday

“An extraordinary book…a viscerally real reminder of the pain and excitement of being a teenager, an honest and compassionate discussion of class in America, a wondrous, lightning-in-a-bottle book.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep

“Part Glee, part Hoop Dreams, Drama High is a bravura performance, the true story of that teacher we all remember or wish we did, the one who pushes us to be better than we thought possible. You'll clap and cry at the end. Sokolove deserves a standing ovation.”—Elizabeth Weil, author of No Cheating, No Dying

“What makes a great teacher—the kind who truly transforms lives? The answer lies between these covers, in Michael Sokolove's intimate portrait. This book ripples with emotion, with humor, with heart. Like a great performance, Drama High won't just move you. It will inspire you.”—Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx Is Burning
 
 
Praise for Michael Sokolove
 
“Sokolove is a natural literary stylist with the gifts of a social historian.”—The New York Times
 
“A terrific read, made to work by Sokolove’s insightful reporting and deft writing . . . a sad, powerful, thoughtful, totally engrossing work.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“A narrative defined by its compassionate, clear-eyed tone.” —Entertainment Weekly
 
“A first-class work of sound reporting.”—Roger Angell, The New Yorker
 

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594488221
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/26/2013
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.18(d)
Lexile:
1020L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Elizabeth Weil
Part Glee, part Hoop Dreams, Drama High is a bravura performance, the true story of that teacher we all remember or wish we did, the one who pushes us to be better than we thought possible. You'll clap and cry at the end. Sokolove deserves a standing ovation. --Elizabeth Weil, author of No Cheating, No Dying
Curtis Sittenfeld
An extraordinary book…a viscerally real reminder of the pain and excitement of being a teenager, an honest and compassionate discussion of class in America, a wondrous, lightning-in-a-bottle book. -- Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep
Jonathan Mahler
What makes a great teacher—the kind who truly transforms lives? The answer lies between these covers, in Michael Sokolove's intimate portrait. This book ripples with emotion, with humor, with heart. Like a great performance, Drama High won't just move you. It will inspire you. --Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx Is Burning
From the Publisher
Praise for Drama High

“Poignant...Captivating...[Sokolove] shines a heartening light on how one of those passionate heroes devoted himself...to educating, rather than training, young people.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A good reporter can make almost any story interesting. A great reporter makes it blossom. With the kind of diligent, thorough and imaginative reporting not seen enough these days, Sokolove not only brings a teacher, his students and their community to life, he also opens the story to larger matters.”—The Washington Post
 
“Sokolove's reporting tells an incredible tale about a brilliant, demanding and subversive teacher who practices the best kind of magic—the kind that's real and that changes lives. Drama High is both provocative and heart-warming...an excellent book for teachers or anyone interested in education and the power of theater. A gutsy high school English teacher might even recommend it to his or her students. ”—USA Today
  
“Required reading: for young people who can learn more about the challenge and rewards of theatre, for parents who may well need the same background, for anyone who doubts the value of theatre as an educational and character-building activity not only for those who would become professionals, for those who want to spark reveries of their own experiences in high school drama....Imagine if all of Glee sustained the level of quality and heart that characterized the story lines between Kurt and his dad, and you'll get a closer approximation of what Drama High achieves.”—The Huffington Post

“Sokolove sucks us in quickly....Drama High is a love letter to a brilliant educator and the crowd-pleasing tale of a quest for glory, but it's also an argument for arts education and a discussion of class.”—Newsday

“An extraordinary book…a viscerally real reminder of the pain and excitement of being a teenager, an honest and compassionate discussion of class in America, a wondrous, lightning-in-a-bottle book.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep

“Part Glee, part Hoop Dreams, Drama High is a bravura performance, the true story of that teacher we all remember or wish we did, the one who pushes us to be better than we thought possible. You'll clap and cry at the end. Sokolove deserves a standing ovation.”—Elizabeth Weil, author of No Cheating, No Dying

“What makes a great teacher—the kind who truly transforms lives? The answer lies between these covers, in Michael Sokolove's intimate portrait. This book ripples with emotion, with humor, with heart. Like a great performance, Drama High won't just move you. It will inspire you.”—Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx Is Burning
 
 
Praise for Michael Sokolove
 
“Sokolove is a natural literary stylist with the gifts of a social historian.”—The New York Times
 
“A terrific read, made to work by Sokolove’s insightful reporting and deft writing . . . a sad, powerful, thoughtful, totally engrossing work.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“A narrative defined by its compassionate, clear-eyed tone.” —Entertainment Weekly
 
“A first-class work of sound reporting.”—Roger Angell, The New Yorker
 

Meet the Author

Michael Sokolove is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, as well as the author of three previous books, The Ticket Out, Hustle, and Warrior Girls. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
STACman More than 1 year ago
Moving and beautifully written. This is what education should be, and this is truly what teaching is all about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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