Christian Black can usually be found directing shows at for North Texas Performing Arts (NTPA) in Plano. As a program director, his job became a bit harder once COVID-19 reached the Dallas suburbs. NTPA is conducting virtual classes and summer camps online, and Black is directing a musical from home.
Black took a moment to tell the Plano Star Courier what his emotions were like when the pandemic hit and what he misses about directing kids at the theater.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the suburbs of McKinney right near the Frisco border. I was mainly an FISD kid. Proud alumni.
How did you get your start in the theater world?
My very first play ever was a production of "The Little Red Hen" when I was in kindergarten, circa the year 2000. After I got bit by the "bug" as they say, I was a part of many camps and took a whole lot of workshops.
I couldn't get enough of it, and it was right around 2005, in my first year of middle school, when I started doing school plays. Pretty soon, I was racking up production after production in school and elsewhere, and that followed me all the way into adulthood.
I was always the loud, eccentric, expressive kid. Now I had found a positive way to channel that.
What brought you to Plano?
As a kid, my family moved here when my dad accepted an engineering position. I was a PISD student at Barksdale Elementary and Renner Middle School before moving to the McKinney-Frisco suburbs when he was relocated.
As a professional, I graduated from The University of Oklahoma in 2016, and my fiancee, now wife, and I moved back to the area because of my job at the Dallas Theater Center beginning that summer.
How did you decide to work with kids?
I've always loved working with students of all ages. In college, I had a job at the local KinderCare and would so enjoy going there after classes on weekday evenings. There's something about the joy of a child, kid, or a teen that is so pure.
Teaching them lessons and trying to instill the knowledge that I've learned is a beautiful experience. If any of my work teaches them to be better performers, and ultimately, better people, there's really nothing better than that.
Tell me what your thoughts were as stay-at-home orders began to prevent you from in-person teaching.
It was super tough, to be quite honest with you. I knew that this would be hard news for our theater, but that really wasn't my primary concern. my primary concern was our students. They rely so heavily on theater as an outlet, and a passion, and a means of expressing themselves.
A lot of that joy is that in-person experience. That's the energy that we love as students and directors, and now we were being robbed of that. It really hurts to be away from your students, because although I mainly teach them, they teach me in a lot of ways as well.
I knew that this was absolutely crucial and the right thing to do because safety is the number one priority. But it didn't make the emotional response any easier.
Why is the study of theater arts important for children during this time?
Theater arts is not just a hobby, and it isn't just a fun thing to do on the side. For a lot of these children, it is a way of life. Children need an outlet to express themselves and the arts are therapeutic, empowering, and it teaches children character.
It allows for a different type of learning that focuses on right-brain stimuli that really focuses on creativity and a sense of being yourself. It is just as important as math and science for these students because it is a way of focus-learning.
What do you miss most about seeing your students?
Their laughter, plain and simple. The laughter that ensues when you can tell they're enjoying themselves or learning something new. The way they can lift each other up with kindness, laughter, and friendship. I miss seeing that and being a part of it.
What is the biggest difference in instructing in-person and virtually?
Preparation, for certain. There has to be a lot more thought that goes into rehearsal planning and class instruction via a virtual outlet because you don't have the luxury of discovering and adjusting in the moment like you normally would in a rehearsal room.
It's almost as if you have to anticipate more possibilities and plan so effectively so that rehearsals are still productive and worthwhile.
What music are you listening to right now?
A lot of "Les Miserables," to be honest. I'm directing that production now, it’s slated to go up in July, and it gets played several times.
My wife is not a fan of the "doom and gloom" as she likes to call it.
What are you most looking forward to?
Seeing my students shine again in person, and when we finally conquer this horrible disease. Like we in the business like to say "this is only intermission, and we can't wait for Act II."