Wednesday marked four days to go before the Normandy High School Drama Club presents its fall program, “Zooman and the Sign.”
Rehearsal is underway and Duane Foster, the Normandy Schools fine arts coordinator is coaxing a more conversational monologue by junior Dalecia Powell who plays the grieving mother of a child that’s been shot and killed.
“Getting adolescents to do what they do naturally, it’s difficult,” said Foster.
Even more difficult are the premature deaths of former students.
“Twelve years of teaching, I’ve been to seven funerals of former students, most recently this summer I went to three,” said Foster.
Foster believes the arts are one way to have candid conversations about violence in St. Louis and the bad choices that young people sometimes make.
“When I would see former students at these funerals we’d have these big conversations about how they’re going to turn their lives around and everything. But it’s like they’re following that same pattern,” said Foster.
Although “Zooman and the Sign” is 30 years old, the plot and themes are up-to-the-minute.
“It’s about the murder of a 12-year-old girl while she’s out on her front porch jumping rope, by a street thug, and it’s during a gang shootout and many people saw it but no one comes forward,” said Foster.
For Foster, art imitating real life and death in St. Louis is an opportunity to guide his students.
“Where’s the real conversation between generations? That’s what I’m trying to spark with this,” said Foster.
Dalecia Powell respects her drama teacher because she knows he’s been there and done that.
“He shows us the process and how hard he had to work to get to where he was at,” said Powell.
With degrees from Morehouse College and Northwestern University, Foster's career includes musical theater, dance, opera and feature films. His dance training came from the Alvin Ailey Dance Center and stage performances took him to Lincoln Center and Broadway.
“Last week was my first time showing my choir class a scene from a movie I had done in which I was singing. ‘We didn’t know you did movies.’ Yeah I’ve done movies. And then I showed them clippings from 'Ragtime'."
Performing in a Broadway production that won four Tony Awards is enough to impress even teenagers. It doesn’t hurt that Foster also attended the same high school as his students.
“I did the same things that you all are doing now and that’s where I was able to get, so you can do it too, said Foster. “I forgot that that’s not bragging.”
Why not continue as a working actor?
“I came home and something greater manifested itself in the form of these kids,” explained Foster. “I can’t leave Normandy. I just can’t leave. There’s too much of me that I accomplished here.”
The play will be performed Friday, December 1 and Saturday, December 2 at 7 p.m. For more information about “Zooman and the Sign” visit the Normandy High School website.