Jana Heyl, the theater arts teacher at Maurice J. McDonough High School, was recently named to the Hall of Fame of the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA). The honor is given to EdTA members who have dedicated more than 20 years of their careers to promoting educational theater. Heyl is in her 32nd year of teaching theater. In that time some of the shows that stick out to her are “Noises Off,” “Les Misérables,” “In the Heights” and “Mary Poppins.”
McDonough was the first school theater to fly actors during a performance, a feat McDonough first accomplished during the production of “Peter Pan,” and later during “Mary Poppins.” It was also the school where playwright Jonathan Rand workshopped a script with theater staff and students to perform at a festival competition. The one-act play, “Murder in the Knife Room,” continues to be produced by schools throughout the world. “We are still in the script as the original cast, along with a picture of us,” Heyl said.
Along with Heyl’s personal honor, the McDonough theater program also garnered recognition from the EdTA. The school received the Educational Theatre Association Outstanding School Award which is given to high schools with theater programs that exemplify and promote high standards in educational theater. The EdTA noted that McDonough staff seek out opportunities that allow students to participate in theater arts either through cross-curricular learning with other subjects or by removing barriers to improve accessibility for students to be involved in the program. Much of that push for students to be involved in the arts comes from Heyl herself. “Her persistent advocacy has resulted in more opportunities, workshops, virtual tools, and better facilities for her students,” Andrew Blumhardt, a content specialist in fine and performing arts, said of Heyl. “Throughout her storied career, she has inspired countless students and teachers with her empathy, compassion, and zeal for theater education.”
Heyl, who was previously installed into the Maryland Thespians Hall of Fame in 2019, was introduced to the theater as a young child when her mother took her to see local high school productions. “‘South Pacific’ was my very first show,” she said. “I started doing theater in high school as a result and was always interested in teaching. I decided to pair the two things I love — theater and kids. I decided to become a theater teacher.”
She hopes to stoke the love of theater in her students, regardless of their future career fields. The skills they learn in theater will benefit them long after the curtain drops on their high school career. “Skills such as teamwork, thinking outside the box, time management, creativity, problem-solving, and leadership,” Heyl said.
McDonough is preparing for its spring production, “The Little Mermaid,” April 8 through 10. Tickets are set to go on sale this month. For more information, go to https://mhsdrama303.booktix.com/.