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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 Cover

ISBN13: 9781594488221
ISBN10: 1594488223
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Publisher Comments:

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 CatsThe 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 such as Rent and Spring Awakening before they move on to high school theater programs across the nation. Volpes 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 Volpes, chronicles the drama directors 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.


About the Author

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

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Rachel Kramer Bussel, October 2, 2013 (view all comments by Rachel Kramer Bussel)
In Drama High, Michael Sokolove returns to his high school, now called Harry S. Truman High School, to profile drama teacher Lou Volpe, who, despite budget cuts and a flagging economy, has brought acclaim and popularity to his classes and spawned several generations of drama students. While never fawning, Sokolove makes it clear that Volpe has had a disproportionate effect on many of his students, including the author, who never took a drama class. By pushing his students to go deep into the material of plays like Good Boys and True, the main one covered in the book, and the controversial Spring Awakening, he takes many of them out of their comfort zones into something even better.

Sokolove contrasts what's happened to Levittown since its founding with its current conditions (for example, of the five giant swimming pools, four have now been filled in) as well as Truman's drama program with competing schools. Along the way, he also tells Volpe's story of coming out (both to himself, his then-wife and, though never as explicitly, to those who know him) as well as his path toward living and breathing theater. While focusing in on a specific school and one extraordinary teacher, Sokolove also paints an often disarming picture of what modern public schooling has become, a numbers game geared toward test scores. Against that backdrop, Volpe's achievements become all the more impressive, and the wealth offered by the very rigorous involvement required turns out to mean more than can be measured on any test.

Sokolove intersperses the story of the two years he spent at Truman High with interviews of former Volpe students, and, though brief, their dedication and vivid remembrances of Volpe speak volumes. A fascinating read, which in some ways reminded me of Joe Miller's look at a school's chess team, Cross-X, especially in its underdog element. The students themselves are book smart and street smart and their outlooks and personal dramas, and especially the way they see their theater involvement impacting their futures, stands out. In an age where we so often read about mothers like the ones in Emily Matchar's The New Domesticity, who want to tightly control their children's environments, seeing kids grow up in much tougher circumstances but being both realistic and often striving for more (the scene where Volpe chastises a 23-year-old former student for resting in being "comfortable" is wonderful, not to mention a message that readers of all ages can take to heart) is refreshing. Sokolove owns his own biases, but is never too fawning or matter-of-fact. He is an interested observer who situations Volpe's dedication as rare but never saintly. Highly recommended.
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Product Details

Sokolove, Michael
Riverhead Books
DRAMA / General
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
b/w photos throughout
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Drama » General
Biography » Educators
Biography » General
Education » General
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