Drama director decides to step down

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Drama director decides to step down

Nelson poses with her graduating seniors on the set of the Addams Family.

Nelson poses with her graduating seniors on the set of the Addams Family.

Photo courtesy of Valerie Nelson

Nelson poses with her graduating seniors on the set of the Addams Family.

Photo courtesy of Valerie Nelson

Photo courtesy of Valerie Nelson

Nelson poses with her graduating seniors on the set of the Addams Family.

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After nine long years of directing shows, choreographing dances, and leading the program, House 4 guidance counselor Valerie Nelson leaves the drama club.

Nelson came to LHS in 2007 and decided to take over the drama club after her predecessor left.

“I’d always been involved with drama my entire life,” Nelson said. “Running a theater program at a high school was something that I had always dreamt of doing, so it was just an easy thing for me to jump into. I got to combine my love for my job with one of my outside passions, so it was the best fit for me.”

Nelson’s acting and choreographing career really began in high school for a program called Actor Singers in Nashua.

“My school didn’t really have a big drama program,” Nelson said. “They didn’t do musicals, and I’m totally a musical girl, so I only did my senior class play.”

After competitively dancing for years, Nelson made an easy transition to the stage to start acting.

“I loved being on stage and performing, so it was a natural transition for me,” Nelson said. “My parents were both really big influences on my life, but my dad always had us watching movie musicals when we were kids, like Singing in the Rain and 42nd Street, so I kind of grew up on that kind of music. After that, I got the theatre bug, and I was like ‘I can do this.’ It gave me a chance to incorporate my dance, and I could sing, so it was just kind of natural for me to start acting.”

Though Nelson has directed nine plays for the school by now, her first play here, “All Shook Up”, still means a lot to her.

“That one will always hold a special place, because it was my first time directing, and I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I just kind of hoped for the best,” Nelson said. “I was trying to fill big shoes from the person that left me before, so I wanted to live up to that expectation.”

Her time directing here has not been without its challenges, but she always managed to pull things together in the end.

“The play that was the hardest for me was Legally Blonde,” Nelson said. “I’ll never forget how we were at dress rehearsal, and all of us, the cast, the crew, everyone, was like ‘we can’t open this show tomorrow, it’s terrible.’ It just wasn’t working. It was a big show to do, and it was really hard, but then it ended up being awesome, so it taught me a lot.”

All of the plays had their ups and downs, but to Nelson, they are all special and meaningful.

“It’s so hard to pick a favorite, because they all taught me something different,” Nelson said. “The last one, Addam’s Family, will also always hold a special place in my heart, because I went out with this one. All of the plays were great though, in their own way.”

She decided to abdicate her position after having a baby last June.

“I honestly just want to spend more time with her,” Nelson said. “I don’t want to miss a moment with her, and running the theatre program here is a huge commitment. I’ve loved it so much and learned and grown so much doing it, but now my priorities have changed a little bit, and it’s time for me to spend some more time with my daughter and be able to separate my work from my passion.”

As expected, the decision to leave this program that means so much to her was not easy to make.

“It was really hard for me, because I love it so much,” Nelson said. “I love being a mom, and she is my priority now. I owe it to her to be the best mom I can be, so I need to spend time with her and make sure that I give her all of my attention. I need to do fun things and have experiences with her.”

To Nelson, the best part of directing plays at this school were the people that she was able to work with.

“My favorite part was the relationships I built over the last nine years with students, families, and others working on my team,” Nelson said. “Those are some of the best relationships I have in my life, and I’m so lucky for that. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to get to know kids that are outside of the students that I work with daily in my job. I have gotten to build a relationship with their parents and have their families know my family. Now, having my daughter knowing the kids and the kids knowing my daughter, she’s got a ton of aunties and uncles, and it’s just awesome. We really are a family, and that’s the best part.”

Though it was her job to instruct and teach students about drama, she learned some things from them as well.

“I guess that I’ve learned that it’s okay to try things that are outside of your comfort zone,” Nelson said. “These students are willing to take risks on the stage and do things that might not feel comfortable to them, but they are always willing to try. It’s like they’re willing to take these risks, and I don’t know if when I was their age, I would have taken these risks.”

She also learned things from them that have nothing to do with acting.

“They’re just good hearted people, so I’ve learned that it’s so important to be nice and support others,” Nelson said. “I made sure that was a common thread throughout this program. I’ve tried to make it like a family, we look out for each other, and we are good to each other. We treat each other and whoever with respect and love, because what we’re doing, art, is a personal thing. I think that for them to trust me and know that I believe in them is the biggest lesson that I’ve learned.”

As she moves on, English teacher Zachary Paone prepares to take over the position for her.

“The program will absolutely be in good hands,” Nelson said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’ll do an amazing job. He’s clever and smart, and he knows what he’s doing. They’ll be in great hands.”

Though she’ll still be involved with the program at least a little bit in this next transition year, it will still be different for her to see the play go on without her.

“I know that they’re going to be great,” Nelson said. “It will be weird to not have it already built into my schedule, and I don’t really know what freetime is like, but I’m excited for where the group is going to go. It’s time, it’s just time for me to move on. Nine years was a good run, and they’re going to be okay, and they know that they’re going to be okay.”

It’s now time for Nelson to find a new identity for herself, outside of her drama work.

“It’s [the drama club] been one of the best parts of my experience here,” Nelson said. “It’s been a big part of my identity for the last nine years here. It’s been like ‘oh, Val runs the drama program, and also she’s a school counselor.’ It’s always been a part of my identity, so I kind of need to reinvent myself, which will be interesting.”

As she makes this transition, she has nothing but gratitude and love left for Lancer Nation.

“I’m just so grateful for everyone’s support, love, and commitment to our program,” Nelson said. “I know that I’m going to miss the kids, but I’m still here. I’m not leaving the building, I’ll still be working here. I’m just not going to be in the club anymore, and that’s okay. I’m excited for this new chapter of my life, and I’m grateful to anyone who’s supported me along the way, and I hope that they continue to support the program for years to come.”

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