A Class Act: Paoli drama club director Maria Wishart honored for 20th year, 50th stage play

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“Between a Moon and a Starr…”

PAOLI – Maria Wishart was recognized in early December for having served 20 years as director of the Paoli High School Drama Club and for directing her 50th stage play at the school. Calling attention to Wishart’s accomplishments were Roger Moon (far left), PHS Drama Club member Elijah MacDonald (second from left), and Craig Starr, former drama club member and current Paoli school board member.

The story below comes to the Paoli Media Staff as a special feature by Roger Moon, local journalist and former Paolite Staff Member.

Paoli High School English teacher Maria Wishart was honored in early December for her 20 years of serving as the high school’s drama club director. She was praised for the positive influence she has had on the lives of former and present students.

The recognition, which came as a surprise to Wishart, took place on closing night of the club’s production of “Descendants.” In addition to calling attention to Wishart’s 20 years as director, the recognition also noted that “Descendants” was the 50th stage production Wishart had guided. She began her directing career with a production of a play fittingly called “Backstage” in the spring of 2001.

Following a “Descendants” curtain call, Wishart was summoned to the stage, where her years of service were acknowledged by Elijah MacDonald, a PHS senior and a member of the “Descendants” cast; Craig Starr, a former drama club member and current Paoli school board member, and Roger Moon, whose daughters Mariah Blalock and Kendra Mathes performed in Wishart’s stage productions in the early 2000’s.

Starr presented Wishart with a memory book containing congratulatory notes and reflections from more than 40 students who had participated in PHS drama club productions under Wishart’s leadership. Starr, a 2003 PHS graduate, recounted that when Wishart urged him to audition for a role, he told her, “I don’t want to do this. It’s not for me.” To that, he added, “You cast me anyway.” But Starr said he came to value the opportunity to participate in stage productions.

Moon, in referring to the thoughts shared in the memory book, said, “The messages focus on Mrs. Wishart’s patience and dedication to the performing arts at PHS. Former students talk of how she helped them conquer fears, step out of their comfort zones and build confidence in themselves. They talk of how she has influenced their later lives and of the impact she has had on them. It is clear Mrs. Wishart not only helped them develop ‘a character’ on stage, but, more importantly, has helped them develop human character in real life.”

Wishart said in a later interview, “I enjoy theater, but what keeps me directing is what it does for kids. I love watching kids blossom, watching them find something in themselves they didn’t know was there. I love watching them solve problems and create. I love watching them interact with each other, learn from each other, and grow close to people they may never have even talked to otherwise.” 

Directing her thoughts to Wishart for the memory book, Jasmine McAlister wrote, “Thank you for always providing a safe space for students to learn, make friends, be themselves and grow through creativity. You always made me feel worthy and valued.”

Michael Woolston, a 2002 graduate, recalled having had a role in the production of “Jane Eyre.” He wrote, “Not only were you an amazing theater director, but one of my favorite teachers. … I remember you noting on one of my papers, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good at telling stories. Maybe you should do this for a living.’ That stuck with me and I like to think that I’m still doing that as I live in Los Angeles and work at Walt Disney Studios.”

Sean Fahey, a 2005 graduate, wrote, “Your impact as an educator and sponsor has reached further than you realize. After becoming an educator myself, I tapped into my inner ‘Maria’ and bravely became the director of an elementary school drama club.”

Moon said it was fitting that Wishart’s recognition was taking place in the Ruth Farlow Uyesugi Auditorium, which he pointed out was dedicated nine years ago in November “in honor of the driving force for this facility to be constructed.” Uyesugi was a longtime English and journalism teacher at PHS and not only had directed shows but also had written plays, some of which were reprised for shows Wishart directed.

Blalock wrote to Wishart “This book is filled with pages of well-deserved adoration and love for you. As I read the words, I could not help but compare the love that so many have for you to the love that the generations before us had for Mrs. Uyesugi.” It was a love that Blalock said students felt “way after they left her classroom.”

Wishart later said that, on the night of her recognition, “I was wearing a shirt that had belonged to Ruth.”

Wishart said, “Anything good that anyone manages to put on stage in this community is at least somewhat indebted to Ruth Uyesugi, whether they learned directly from her, learned from those who learned from her, or are simply beneficiaries of a community that has enabled theater to thrive.”

Wishart also said, “Sometimes when people ask how I became a drama director, I simply say, ‘Because God knew that’s where I needed to be.’  The experiences and the relationships along the way have been great blessings to me and have also provided me a unique opportunity to do some good.”

Story by Roger Moon
Moon was a member of the Paolite staff from 1973-1974