Fifth Annual EITEA Winner, Madeline Michel, Feels Reach of Tony Award Recognition
Madeline Michel never imagined herself giving an acceptance speech in front of a crowd of theater professionals at Radio City Music Hall. As an English teacher, she considers herself "still learning" about the dramatic/performing arts. But in June 2019, she took the stage as the fifth winner of the Excellence in Theatre Education Award, presented by Carnegie Mellon University and the Tony Awards. Michel, who oversees the drama program at Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Va., said the experience has changed her life.
"I think this affects more than me and my school," she said. "It brings attention to our school and, as a result, people in the community learn more about what you do and learn about our students. That’s what’s important."
Michel never thought she would win the honor, even though she played a role in the submission process. A fellow teacher suggested she put her name in the running, so Michel worked with some of her students and their parents to complete the process. She had no idea she would receive a call from the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League naming her the judges’ choice.
"When they called, my principal [Rick Vrhovac] put on the speaker phone, and I thought I was being pranked," she said. "But I realized he wouldn’t do that, and I was stunned into silence."
Suddenly, she was news. Papers, TV and radio stations in the Charlottesville area reached out to her. It was, she said, a positive feeling for her, the school and the community after social unrest created news of a different kind during the prior fall’s riot situation, in which several of her students were involved and harmed.
Soon, she and her husband, Jon, were heading to New York for the Tony Awards. She recalled that the entire weekend was made special "by the people I met and who thanked me for being a teacher." She especially was thankful for her escort from The Broadway League, Claudia Velez, and actors like Laura Linney, "who was absolutely lovely."
Madeline Michel accepts the Excellence in Theatre Education Award presented by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University during the Creative Arts Awards portion of the 2019 Tony Awards.
Before walking the red carpet, she met CMU School of Drama alumnus and "Choir Boy" actor John Clay III, who helped to calm her before she headed into the sea of flashbulbs.
"John left me with some thoughts that I immediately talked to my students about," she said. "He reminded me of some of my students. He was honest, kind and thoughtful, and it made me feel so good to be aware of his trajectory. ’Choir Boy’ was one of my favorite shows." She maintains regular contact with him.
Through her award, Michel will be able to select two students to attend the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama Summer Pre-College Program in 2020, and she also will receive a $10,000 grant for her school’s theater program. She hopes to use the funds toward educational trips and scholarships for her students. Many, she said, do not have the financial means to experience things outside of their high school classrooms. For example, she regularly takes about 30 students to the meeting of the Virginia Theater Association in Norfolk, where the students perform.
"We’re the only school that always does original student plays," she said. "This year, I had two girls write excellent plays; one Indian-American who wrote a beautiful play about being the child of an immigrant, and another biracial girl who wrote a one-act play about the hateful message behind the Confederate flag."
Michel uses her drama classes to help students express themselves through the arts in these and other ways and clearly sees the benefits in students who become involved. She is thrilled to play a role in helping them find an outlet through the arts.
"I love working with these young people," she said. "To be recognized for doing something that I love and to see the profound effect that the arts has on them - this award is for them. I just happened to be the one who got to accept it."