New drama head brings technical experience, passion to the department

August 29, 2020 — by Nidhi Mathihalli and Marisa Kingsley

In 2019, drama teacher Bryan Ringsted arrived at The Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas one hour before his shift pushing boxes for the P!nk concert stage started. After 30 minutes, he found the tech entrance and due to his early arrival, began talking with the director of the show. 

Discussing his projection and lighting skills, Ringsted was promoted from his current job to a projectionist, where he ran background colors and images during the show and troubleshooted the technical issues that occurred. He would later use this example for his students to show how arriving early sometimes opens up opportunities. 

Ringsted is the new drama teacher following the departure of Sarah Thermond, who left to teach drama full time at Palo Alto High School. 

Ringsted taught drama at Leigh High School in Campbell for 11 years, from 2007 to 2018, before moving to Portland, Ore., to be with his wife, a rheumatologist, as she completed a two-year program at the Oregon Health and Science University. 

There, instead of teaching, he explored various technical theater job opportunities to improve his skills as a projectionist, as well as audio and lighting. Given the flexibility to travel, he worked concerts for notable performers such as Carrie Underwood and Ariana Grande. When his wife’s university program ended, they wanted to move back to the Bay Area so they could be near family. 

After returning, Ringsted said he was eager to get back to teaching. 

“Nothing I could do, no matter how awesomely artistic or if I was working with professionals, could do nearly as much good as I would do in a month teaching high school,” Ringsted said. 

Growing up locally and attending Pioneer High School in San Jose, Ringsted didn’t initially go down the drama path; instead, he wanted to play football. During a physical, however, his doctor discovered Ringsted had a congenital defect in his heart, which thwarted his chances of playing. 

After remembering how he enjoyed acting in junior high, Ringsted decided to audition for the fall play. Once cast, he described the production as the “most fun [he] ever had doing anything,” and continued to perform throughout high school in both plays and musicals. 

Ringsted’s passion for drama thrived in college and he graduated with a degree in theater from San Jose State University. After graduating, he continued to study at SJSU and received his teaching credential, although he was not completely sold on becoming a teacher. But, that soon changed once he began teaching at Leigh High School. 

“I realized that teaching high school was so much more fun than being in the theater world and not teaching high school,” Ringsted said. “I tell this to my theater friends that are working in the real world and they say ‘you’re crazy, how do you work with kids?’ And I’m like no, they’re students, and they’re passionate, they’re excited and they desperately want to do amazing things.”

Through teaching, Ringsted said that he has been able to help people in ways that he couldn’t before. Whether it’s comforting a crying student who didn't get a lead or planning curriculum, Ringsted said that through teaching, he has felt like he was either making a difference or having fun.

Ringsted also has another goal: He wants to create a safe environment for students like the safe haven theater provided him in high school. 

“I think being a theater teacher is really important because we create a place for students to be themselves and not feel judged and feel safe because that’s so difficult,” Ringsted said. “When I was in my history or English or math classes [they did not feel like] safe places. In my high school, there were a lot of bullies and some kids that were just mean, and that came into class.” 

The approach Ringsted uses to teach mirrors his goals. He believes that his role as a teacher lies in “removing roadblocks,” whether it be answering questions, providing guidance or helping students practice parts of a song they are having trouble with. His philosophy is to ask “how can I help you” rather than “let me help you” so students can create a vision for what they want to do. 

Furthermore, he believes that students should learn by doing so they can understand where they need help or improvement. For assignments, Ringsted said that while he will “frontload a little,” he primarily wants the students to take the lead so he can meet them where they are. 

Freshman Arushi Maheshwar, who takes the Drama 1 course, said that she is greatly enjoying Ringsted’s teaching and approach to class.

“[The class is a] very safe and warm environment where you get to express yourself,” Maheshwar said. 

Despite the unconventional start to the year, Ringsted is excited to work with students in innovative ways to engage in theater. This year, Ringsted is introducing a student film festival, where students will collaborate to write, direct, act and produce short films. The student film festival will take the place of the fall play, as it does not require in-person contact and will provide students a way to remain engaged in film and theatre while following social-distancing guidelines and is open to all students. In the long term, Ringsted hopes to expand the drama program to include beginning and advanced technical theater and musical theater classes.

“The goal is to provide students with a wider variety of theatrical offerings. Not every student wants to be an actor. I get that, acting is hard and scary,” Ringsted said. “There are so many ways and there is so much creativity in tech theater, where you can beautifully craft a story in a collaborative way, in a dozen different areas.”

 

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