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‘There was something missing’: Stint on New York stage energizes Normandy teacher

Normandy High School teacher Duane Foster said it was a luxury to spend seven weeks of this school year in the off-Broadway production of "Angtigone in Ferguson."
Gregg Richards | Theater of War Productions
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Normandy High School teacher Duane Foster said it was a luxury to spend seven weeks of this school year in the off-Broadway production of "Angtigone in Ferguson."

Normandy teacher Duane Foster recently returned from an unusual sabbatical: a role in an off-Broadway production of “Antigone in Ferguson.”

Foster made his New York debut in “Ragtime” 20 years ago, then came home to St. Louis in 2006 and became the theater and music teacher at Normandy High School. Performing in the chorus and as a soloist in “Antigone” for seven weeks in August and September provided a long-awaited chance to return to the stage.

Now, in his second week back in St. Louis, Foster is working to translate his recent New York experience into projects that will benefit his students.

“There was something missing, that I had when I first started teaching, and that was the joy of being a teaching artist,” Foster said. “Sometimes we have to feed the artistic side of ourselves in order to be available and to be really valuable for our students.”

Focusing on ‘regular teenage angst’

“Antigone in Ferguson” is written and directed by The Theater of War Productions’ Bryan Doerries. It’s a newer take on Sophocles’ Greek classic “Antigone” about a sister seeking a proper burial for her brother.  The “Ferguson” version responds to the 2014 death of Michael Brown and addresses the fact that Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours after then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him.

Foster’s relationship with Brown provided another incentive to join the New York cast.

Duane Foster returned to St. Louis in 2006 to take a break from acting and took a temporary job at Normandy High School, which became a permanent position.
Credit Duane Foster
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Duane Foster returned to St. Louis in 2006 to take a break from acting and took a temporary job at Normandy High School, which became a permanent position.

“I taught him seventh-grade theater as well as 12th-grade music appreciation,” Foster said. “So I felt like I owed it to his memory to do it.”

Foster, a 1987 graduate of Normandy High School, was inspired by his recent New York gig to begin creating a full-length show, written by his students about their own experiences.

Being in New York also reminded him to bring a wider array of experiences into his teaching. After 12 years at the school, Foster said he realized he’d been focusing narrowly on themes like gun violence, drug abuse and the school's effort to regain accreditation.

“But we also have kids who don't have those experiences,” Foster said “We have kids who have what I call regular teenage angst situations … about going to college, about their heart being broken over a breakup, body image finding friends not finding friends.”

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On Friday, Foster will be part of a panel assembled for an Opera Theatre of St. Louis presentation called “Representation and Responsibility: Perspectives on Equity, Casting, and the Performing Arts in the 21st Century” at John Burroughs School. It also features soprano Julia Bullock, R-S Theatrics artistic director Christina Rios and Opera Theatre general director Andrew Jorgensen.

“The idea I want to get across is, for those who are even thinking about casting, it's OK to go outside of the box,” Foster said “Because, actually, in 2018 there shouldn't even be a box.”

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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