BY BRADLEY AKERS
June 5th will mark itself as the end of a legacy—a legacy that has resulted from a 30-year tenure of a woman who has remarkably changed the lives of young artists through the devoted and in-depth training of the theatre arts. Dr. Lee Beger retires from the Chair of Theatre at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, a position she has held since the school’s inception. Beger has led the theatre program through a student body growth from 30 to over 200 pupils and a faculty growth from 2 to 7 teachers. She has directed more than 45 productions at DA, winning statewide awards at the State Thespian Conferences in addition to taking students to perform in Scotland at the world-renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She has an innate gift for cultivating a family of talented and aspiring students with the goal of fostering their growth into young professionals.
My experience with Lee Beger was and remains genuinely special. Her heart and guidance has been one of the largest springboards for my growth and success as an artist.
The time is 2008—ages ago. I sat in my very first 9th Grade acting class, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, without a trace of understanding that my life would be changed on this very day thanks to one very special woman. The door opened and a sudden quiet fell over the room as the footsteps grew louder and louder. The footsteps belonged to none other than Dr. Lee Beger (or “Doc” for short). She walked in and stood at the center of the room, looking at us.
“What is the most important thing we can do in theatre?” she asked. The answers varied everywhere, things like “entertain people” and “dress up like funny characters.” After she got sick of saying “no” for the twenty-seventh time, she quietly put her folder down on a chair and stared at us again. She turned and began her signature walk that always looked like she was on a mission. She disappeared behind a curtain in the back of the room. We started to look around at each other, and after hearing something move around furiously, the curtain flew open to reveal Doc pulling a large rolling white board to the middle of the room. She picked up a dry erase marker and began to write three words that changed my life: tell the story. There was something special about hearing that from her. We, as theatre artists, should all know that. It meant something more coming from her because it stemmed from an immense amount of passion. I could see that. I loved that.
Fast forward a few months into my freshman year when I was cast in the Mainstage musical. It was through this process that I started wanting to be a director. I found myself watching the way she created interesting visual moments on a stage that were much bigger than anything we had ever experienced. It was mesmerizing to watch someone with such passion about the craft enjoy every moment of its creation. I then realized that we were making art.
That is what propelled me to engage in a mentorship with Doc over the next few years. She made me realize the importance of taking risks, artistically and personally. I failed. I succeeded. I fell and pulled myself back up. I was pushed to tears of frustration and tickled to tears of joy. It was a journey, a riveting journey that rekindled my love for this art form. It was at this point that I was truly pushed. I was not allowed to “settle for good.”
Senior year was quite the experience. At this point, I had worked with Doc and was at her side enough that I became one of her right hand students. I had the opportunity to Stage Manage the Mainstage musical that year, which was a full circle from my bushy-haired freshman days in the musical. This time, I was by Doc’s side for the entire creative process: from pre-planning to closing night. I remember distinctly being pulled into her office one day after an intense rehearsal where she sat me down, looked at me in the eyes and said, “You, Brad, are a director.” Tears came to my eyes.
I sit now in my office at Players by the Sea Theatre as Associate Director where I work closely with the Executive Director and where I have the opportunity to direct season shows. Doc, or Lee as I now feel somewhat comfortable calling her, is directing August: Osage County here at Players. I am no longer her student. She is no longer my teacher. We are contemporaries and collaborators. In my position, I am able to offer her suggestions about the show and discuss changes I think would benefit the production as a whole.
For the past 30 years, Lee has made an incredible impact on the lives of young artists. She creates an environment that is uniquely comfortable and allows creative instincts to take flight. What she taught and gave the hundreds of students over the years was way more than skills and tips for a career in theatre. She gave us the keys to being functioning members of society: creativity, communication, responsibility and dignity. So, even though a number of her former students are doing incredible things other than the theatrical arts, they possess a certain set of skills that sets them apart.
I am forever grateful for the impact that Lee has had on my life and growth as an individual. Her inspiration to “tell the story” has filled my professional and personal life, as I wake up in the morning and commit myself to telling the story—no matter if I am just enjoying life, creating design and marketing strategies, or directing a play. I am overjoyed for the four years I spent as a student with Lee and I look forward to the many years of creative friendship that are yet to come.