The special Tony Award that honors educators this year will go to a drama teacher in Charlottesville, Virginia, who has encouraged her students to explore their differences and heal rifts, especially following a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in the city.
Madeline Michel from Monticello High School will receive the 2019 Excellence in Theatre Education Award on June 9 at the Tony Awards in New York City.
Under Michel’s guidance, the school has mounted student-written shows such as “A King’s Story,” about a fictional black Charlottesville teenager who is shot and killed by police; “#WhileBlack,” about racial profiling; and “Necessary Trouble,” which explores racial and identity symbols that high school students can encounter during a normal school day.
“This program is not about me, because it has to be about my students,” Michel said in a statement. “They are our future. They are the people that are going to change the world and make it better. These are the kids who give me so much hope in some very dark times.”
Charlottesville was where white nationalists descended in 2017 to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. They fought in the streets with counterdemonstrators. Later, as counterdemonstrators were peacefully marching through a downtown street, a car drove into the crowd, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring many more. A self-avowed white supremacist pleaded guilty.
The annual Excellence in Theatre Education Award bestowed by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University recognizes U.S. educators from kindergarten to 12th grade who have “demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession.”
The award includes a $10,000 prize and a pair of tickets to the Tony ceremony and gala. A panel of judges comprised of the American Theatre Wing, The Broadway League, Carnegie Mellon and other leaders from the theater industry selects the winner, based on candidates submitted by the public.
“Theatre and arts education are fundamental to our educational system. Today, more than ever, we need our local school auditoriums, their wonderfully creative students and courageous theatre educators like Madeline Michel to put powerful new ideas on stage and to share them,” said Heather Hitchens, president of the wing and Charlotte St. Martin, president of the league, in a statement.
Michel is a graduate of the University of Rochester and Johns Hopkins University. She began her career as an English teacher in the Baltimore school system. For the past 12 she has been teaching theater in Charlottesville.