Taking the stage: teaching duo shares passion for theater arts

Jay Fischer takes on his role in “Oliver!”

From the classroom to the spotlight, teachers Amanda and Jay Fischer know a thing or two about making the most of a summer. Both avid fans of the theater arts, the husband and wife team spends their break heavily involved with the Shadblow Theatre in Jenison.

This summer, Amanda and Jay have played some sort of a role in all of the productions at Shadblow. While Amanda has been directing and assisting, Jay has played the role of Fagin in “Oliver! In Concert,” Dr.Edward Armstrong in “And Then There Were None” and narrator in “Into the Woods.”

Amanda, the creative writing instructor and musical director at Grandville High School, first found her love for the performing arts through song.

“I started singing in elementary school and in middle school, (and) I finally got into the theatre part of it,” she said. “My best friend brought me along to auditions and ultimately got me to get involved.”

During the beginning of her Grandville career, Amanda served on the fine arts committee for the middle school though she was teaching English and history.

“I had the students that were involved in theater but I wasn’t teaching them that skill,” she said.

When she moved to the high school, the stars aligned and it turned out that a musical director was needed.

“I went to the principal’s office and told him I wanted the job and told him about my experience, and the rest was history,” Amanda said.

Eleven high school shows later, Amanda still is amazed by the talent she sees from her students.

“These students are better than I’ll ever be,” she said. “It’s an honor to work with them every day.”

Amanda Fischer directs onstage at Shadblow Theatre

A Star is Born, Reluctantly

Jay, Learning Support Center supervisor at Grandville High School, had a much more reluctant start to his acting career.

“When I was 10, I was dragged to a high school play because my sister had to go for extra credit for a class that she was in,” Jay said. “I went to it kicking and screaming. They sang the first song of the musical and it was amazing, I was immediately hooked.”

After that musical, Jay started looking for more shows to go see and decided that the theater was for him. Performing in several high school plays and musicals, he took a brief hiatus in college.

When Amanda and Jay met and married, one of the things they had in common was their interest in the performing arts. When Amanda was directing musicals for the high school, she would have Jay come in and help with odd things here or there.

“We’re a good team,” Amanda said. “He’s very good at the little details and I’m more focused on the big picture. It works out well.”

Working with Amanda at the high school was one of the main reasons Jay got back on stage.

“Students I was working with would look at me and ask me why I wasn’t acting,” he said. “I thought I was past my prime and made other excuses. I didn’t think I was good enough. One year I tried out and, since then, I have been pretty fortunate to be cast in shows for the community.”

Working Alongside Students

This summer, Amanda and Jay were involved in all four productions at Shadblow either on stage or behind the scenes. Often, summer productions mean working with students in a different way than in the classroom.

“There are a lot of Grandville students that we recruited for ‘Oliver!’ and ‘Music Man,’” Amanda said. “The theater pulls mostly from Grandville but we also get some students from outside the immediate community.”

Students are pretty excited to work with their teachers because it’s a different way of interacting, the teachers said.

“At school you’re in an authority position, but when I’m in the show, me and the kids, we’re on the same level,” Jay said. “They think about us as these experts of the performing arts, but some of these kids are way better than I’ll ever be.

“You have to humble yourself and know that you can only teach them how to work hard, that’s the most important thing that they can learn. The natural ability is there; we just push them along their path and show them how to work effectively.”

Learning Tools for School

Each play provides a different learning experience that can be brought back to the classroom, Jay said.

“I have read so many books on acting and taken in so much information,” he said. “Part of it is to further me as an actor, but another part of it is learning how to communicate information to my students. A lot of the things I do I have the mindset of is this going to make me a better director, or what can I take from this experience back to Grandville to teach to them.

With Amanda in the director’s seat, she uses many of the same skills and techniques she does with her students.

“It is so many of the same skills that you use as a teacher,” she said. “It’s the organizing, it’s the bringing the best out in people and seeing the good in them that maybe they don’t even see, and helping them blossom and develop. Each actor, just like each student, is unique and needs to be motivated in their own way.”

The last summer show, “Into the Woods,” that the Fischers will be involved in for the season opens Sept. 14, after the start of the Grandville academic year.

“It’s going to be hectic, that’s for sure,” Amanda said. “Even though we’re busy for most of the summer and into the school year, we wouldn’t have it any other way. The community focus of the theater is incredible, and it’s a great place for students and adults to perform.”

A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio.

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