Osborne Gets a Lot Out of Union Pines Actors
Even though it's 8 a.m. on one of the coldest mornings of the month, it doesn't take Judy Osborne's advanced theater class at Union Pines High long to warm up.
In the school's auditorium -- the seats empty, save a few book bags, jackets and, inexplicably, a pair of flip-flops -- Osborne gives her class the cue.
"OK," she says. "Action!"
On stage, there's a flurry of twirling black and white mats. A kid starts hopping around like a rabbit. A slide whistle is heard from behind the scenes.
The students are rehearsing "Alice," a reworking of the "Alice in Wonderland" story that they took to the state theater finals earlier this year.
"Stage right needs to open the hole up a little more," Osborne directs. And then, a little bit later, "Keep it loud. Keep your words clear."
The rehearsal runs that way for about an hour, with Osborne teaching from the foot of the stage and the students morphing out of and back into character as they receive and apply her advice.
"She's a great director," senior Annabelle Young says after the class. "She points out the things she wants, and then when we do it, she glows."
No Longer a Secret
Osborne, who has been teaching at Union Pines for 17 years, just won the North Carolina Theatre Conference (NCTC) Educator's Award last month. She has led her students to state competition seven times. Last year, her advanced theater class won first place in the NCTC play festival for its production of "15 Reasons Not To Be in a Play."
"I always wanted to be a theater teacher," Osborne says.
In addition to their award-winning work on "15 Reasons," Osborne's students also put together a production of "Peter Pan" last year, bringing in the nationally known Foy group to help with the flying stunts.
"We used to say we were the best-kept secret in Moore County," she said. "But people are starting to find out about us."
Osborne started out as a substitute teacher in Birmingham, Ala., and got a full-time teaching position once she moved to Moore County with her family in 1989. She's married, with a son now in college and a daughter at Union Pines. While she has worked on numerous professional productions, and while a professional theater career always has been an option for her, Osborne says she prefers the classroom.
'Proud of What We Do'
"I like the energy and enthusiasm of high school students," she says. "Lots of them are very gifted, talented. They can be very creative -- and very challenging."
Osborne is more quiet and measured than, say, a Norma Desmond-type drama teacher decked out in scarves and a muumuu. She seems to be able to get her point across without barking directions at her students.
"She's not loud," says senior student Katherine Parnell. "But she definitely has a presence."
Osborne basically has built the program at Union Pines from the ground up. The school had no drama classes before she joined the faculty. But within five years, she was teaching a full load of theater classes, including play production, acting, directing and the advanced theater arts class.
"Each level we build," she says. "They learn how to make choices as an actor, to create characters, to understand tempo. Then they learn how to create something honest and true on stage."
Her students stage a musical and a full-length play every year, as well as five to nine one-act productions. When they go to compete at theater festivals, Union Pines students are up against much larger schools, even competing against some performing arts schools. So to have a small, 1,200-student school like Union Pines, compete at such a high level is a pretty big deal.
"I'm proud of what we do here," Osborne says. "This community should be proud that this fairly small high school in the country can work at the same level and be better than bigger schools."
Here's another "kind of a big deal" -- when Osborne's students won at the state competition in Charlotte for "15 Reasons" last year, none other than the eminent actor Will Ferrell presented them with their award.
"The kids just erupted," Osborne says of their brush with celebrity. "They were screaming, and then he gave us this ginormous trophy."
Osborne says she doesn't expect all her students to become professional actors. She's had a handful of students pursue the dream in New York or California, but she says encouraging her students to take up a career in theater isn't really her objective.
"Hopefully they will have a lifelong love for the arts," says Osborne, who also serves on the board of the arts advocacy group ARTS NC. "You hear over and over that a student who picks an art and really gets involved has higher test scores, better grades and better attendance."
Need something here
The theater program at Union Pines funds its productions mostly through ticket sales, but it also raises money through grassroots efforts, grants and private donations. The students make all their own sets and props, working on the weekends to make sure everything gets finished. Without Osborne's influence, the students say they probably wouldn't be half as dedicated to their craft. One senior says Osborne is the reason she gets up for school in the morning. Some of the advanced students have earned as many as nine credits with her.
"All of us wouldn't normally get along," says Andrew McFadyen. "She's what we have in common."
Osborne's students typically buy her a new charm before every major production they perform. She wears all the charms on a bracelet for performances.
"It's like there's a big tornado out there," senior Jacob Walas says as he points to the doors of the auditorium. "And we're safe in here. As long as she's proud, we're happy."
Katherine Evans can be reached at 693-2480 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story