People: Harrodsburg drama teacher speaks from experience

October 20, 2003|GARY MOYERS

HARRODSBURG - When Kate Bortner talks to students at Harrodsburg High School about dramatic technique, she brings a fair amount of practical experience to bear.

The drama teacher with a degree in theater has traveled a winding career path in and out of the profession - but never too far away.

"I got out of college and went right into the world of theater, and it scared me," she said.

"For a while, I did a little of everything, and six years later I got my teaching certificate. That's when I found my professional calling. It just took me a few more years after that to realize it."

In 1992, Bortner performed in "The Legend of Boone," the outdoor summer production at Old Fort Harrod State Park in Harrodsburg. But that didn't sate her energy level, so she took on other activities to fill her "spare" time.


"I also taught American literature in summer school at Harrodsburg, and in the afternoons I worked in character as Miss Addie on the Dixie Belle at Shakertown," she said. "It was a very full summer."

That fall, Bortner moved to Virginia and taught, then joined a traveling children's theater performing group and traveled the country. But the performance bug was still biting, so she moved to Seattle and worked again as a professional actor and and costume designer.

Two years ago, the epiphany struck again.

"In 2001, I took stock and realized the best of both worlds for me would be to teach and perform at the same time," she said.

"I loved the feeling I had when I worked with students, and I decided that was the career path for me."

She was hired in 2002 after calling the Harrodsburg school system for a reference for positions near Louisville. "They told me they had a teaching position open, I interviewed, and they offered me the job," she said. "Within two weeks, I'd moved to Harrodsburg, and I love it here. It's been a great move for me."

The melding of Bortner with the drama job at Harrodsburg is already showing rewards for both sides. Students are flocking to audition for parts in Bortner's shows.

"One-fourth of our school auditioned for the fall show ('The Twilight Zone Marathon', Friday and Saturday at Harrodsburg High School), which is huge here," she said.

"Traditionally, we've only done one show each year, but last year we added a fall fund-raiser, and this year we're keeping that fund-raiser and adding a show to accommodate all the students who want to participate."

"I love the fact that all these kids want to try it," she said.

Bortner said her career twists and turns have paid dividends in her teaching methods.

"I think my career outside teaching has really helped me get through to the students," she said. "I use life experiences to tie what I teach to something the students relate to outside the classroom."

The big show in the spring will be a musical. "It's my understanding the school hasn't performed a musical in a long time, if ever, and we have some students with musical abilities we want to showcase," she said.

In the midst of the almost daily fall break rehearsals, however, Bortner didn't forget her performing roots.

She spent the weekend in Dallas, reading a letter from a survivor of the 1912 Titanic ocean liner disaster to a convention of Titanic enthusiasts. Her reading, in costume, stems from a childhood fascination with the disaster.

"I saw it as a child on an old TV show called 'Time Tunnels'," she said. "I became absolutely obsessed, and then my grandfather, who indulged my obsessions, gave me a book about it that contained interviews with survivors. I've been fascinated with it ever since."

Bortner brings a passion to her position that she says sometimes reaches a fever pitch during class and rehearsals.

"I tend to get deeply involved in whatever I do," she said after a rehearsal for the school's fall show.

"I want the students to realize how much the theater can mean to them, regardless of whether they plan a professional career in it or not."

Just as when she performs on a stage, Bortner said the audience reaction - or in the case of the classroom, her students' reactions - are the reward.

"Drama is the great equalizer," she said. "Students from all the cliques - the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders, everybody - they're all equal on the stage, because they're someone else. The idea of performing relates to so many different professions in life. What you learn in drama class carries over to all jobs, whether you're a CEO who stands in front of board meetings, or a counter person at McDonald's dealing with people all day long.

"I'm not necessarily building actors and actresses here. I'm exposing students to drama. I want to see the looks on their faces when they get up on that stage for the first time in front of people and hear applause. There's no feeling like it," she said.

Central Kentucky News Articles