Terry Guerin to Begin Her Second Act
After 30 years of teaching and leading the theatre program, Terry will be leaving FCS.
From the moment she stepped onto campus, Terry Guerin has been fearless – never shying away from a show because it pushed the envelope or because it was something that high school students had never before performed. In her over 30 years of teaching English and drama at FCS, Terry has been a luminary, profoundly impacting the lives of countless students and colleagues and taking Friends’ Central’s theatre program to new heights. She leaves behind a monumental legacy of which students and alumni/ae are proud to have been a part.
As we honor Terry and the impact she has had on Friends’ Central, we sat down with Terry and one of the former students from her first drama class, Tiffani Gavin ’91, who is the Manager of the Marquis Theatre in NY, for a Q&A.
Tiffani: I was a sophomore when you came to FCS, and I had to petition to be in your class. I remember hearing that this great new teacher was coming and being so excited, but then being told I couldn’t take this class because I already had an art class. But I wanted to take a class with you – I was so excited! I barely remember my freshman acting class, but I vividly remember being in your class, especially doing a scene from Fences by August Wilson.
Terry: Oh wow, that’s right!
Tiffani: What I loved about your class was that you knew what each of us had to offer. You let us explore, but you had a sense of what we could do even before we did. And you saw in us where we needed to be pushed. There were just no limits to what we could do or learn in your class and the roles we could play. In your class, I felt like I could do anything – work on whatever was interesting to me. You were open to whatever we were interested in trying, and I was never afraid. I think that’s what makes a great drama class and drama teacher – to be in a classroom where you’re not afraid to fail, to try things. It was a safe space where we all grew and learned and is an incredible part of us becoming who we are and being able to go out in the world and not be afraid.
“You let us explore, but you had a sense of what we could do even before we did. And you saw in us where we needed to be pushed. There were just no limits to what we could do or learn in your class and the roles we could play.”
Tiffani Gavin ’91
Terry: I’m thrilled to hear that. It makes me so happy to think that was going on in 1989 and 1990 because I was really young. I do feel like all the things you said are really important to make theatre. There’s that James Baldwin quote that captures it best, I think: “The place in which I’ll fit does not exist until I create it.” The same holds true for the space in which we trust each other to create.
I was brand new in 1988 and 1989 and thinking let’s do West Side Story, and I still have fond memories of putting that show together. It was my first show, and I remember – thinking Tiffani would be great as Anita, and Chad Johnson ’91 as Riff. He was in the performance piece we did as a fundraiser for Action Aids and Ty Stiklorius ’93 – and Walker Gilmore ’91 were in both pieces as well – and I remember everybody from that experience, it was great. The whole thing was just so special.
Tiffani: Another thing I remember about West Side Story was getting the worst case of strep throat that year.
Terry: I remember that! I also have fond memories of Julie Nathanson ’91 as Velma. I just remember it being so much fun.
Tiffani: It was such a mix of people – not just theatre people – full of people doing a show for the first time. Some of them just wanted to be a Jet or a Shark. It was really great. I met people I probably otherwise wouldn’t have met because it was the kind of show that everyone wanted to be a part of. I love that. Thought it was so much fun and such a great show. I could not thank you and Mr. Davis enough for giving me the shot to do that show – it was one of my fondest memories of performing. And to still be friends with my theatre compatriots all this time is amazing.
“There’s no substitute for that joy – seeing young people cooperate together – it’s just magic … There’s something about it that’s just hard to match – the power of the young body – the way youth can just launch into the air – with no fear – and being weightless – it’s just the most amazing thing.”
Terry: After all these years of doing this, there’s a part of me, when I’m in class sometimes, where there’s a group of kids working at the piano doing a Beach Boys song, and I think there’s just no substitute for this. I plan to stay in theatre, but there’s no substitute for that joy – seeing young people cooperate together – it’s just magic. It’s not the same as working with people who are “professionals.” There’s something about it that’s just hard to match – the power of the young body – the way youth can just launch into the air – with no fear – and being weightless – it’s just the most amazing thing. When I think about that, I get sad. But there’s a lot I’m looking forward to, as well.
Tiffani: I hope that the level of excellence, the bar that you’ve set, remains because what we were doing in high school was so different from what kids at other schools were doing. What other high school was performing The Elephant Man or Foreigner?
Terry: I was with a friend and reading [Foreigner], he talked me into choosing it for our first show – the cast was fantastic with you, Jim Christie, Julie – so many more. I’ve only repeated three shows, and that was one of them – we performed it again in 2011.
The Elephant Man was gorgeous – what a beautiful production. Jim Davis put up photos from The Elephant Man in Shallcross Hall, and it brought back great memories.
Tiffani: I never knew [The Elephant Man] as a play; I only knew it as a movie. Now, every time it shows up on Broadway, I have to see it.
I didn’t do the play because I was doing a sport, but I always did the musical. And whatever shows I wasn’t performing in, I went to see them. We were just doing very challenging, interesting things at FCS when you were there. And when others were doing Grease for the 10th time, we were doing the real deal with a professional director. As performers, parents were shocked. My mom was a music teacher before an elementary school teacher, and when she saw West Side Story, she was blown away. She couldn’t believe her kid could do that, that these high school kids were so amazing.
Terry: We also did Angels in America (“WOW!”), and Julian Shapiro-Barnam ’17, who played Prior, was with his family on vacation, and who did he run into but Tony Kushner. When we were doing Angels in America, I wrote to every person I knew in NY theatre to please tell Tony we were doing this show. So Julian started talking to him – telling him that he had just played Prior in his high school production, and Tony said, “That was your high school?!” So word did get to him.
Tiffani: So, what’s your plan, now that you’re starting your second act?
Terry: There’s a lot to consider. I really want to be a supporter of theatre in Philadelphia. I just did a reading, actually, and it was so much fun. It was the first time Paul and I had acted together since 1984, and it was way more fun than I ever expected it to be. I’d like to work with new plays, supporting theatre and Shakespeare in education in Philadelphia. I’d like to help with curriculum development for teachers who want to teach Shakespeare in performance.
“Brilliant director, passionate arts educator, truth-telling faculty member are all facets of Terry and what she brought to the School and to me.”
Jim Davis, FCS Archivist and Former Arts Department Chair
Jim Davis, FCS Archivist and former Chair of the FCS Arts Department, recalls, “Terry Guerin came to FCS in 1988. I remember her interview well, as she shared her love for musicals and how she was eager to stage some of the best examples of the American Musical Theatre tradition. Very passionate was our Terry! We decided to wait a bit, as undertaking a musical her first year was a steep climb. So the next year, in 1990, we took the plunge with West Side Story. Big production, large cast (including Tiffani Gavin!), and major success. She had the kids – and me – from that show. Brilliant director, passionate arts educator, truth-telling faculty member are all facets of Terry and what she brought to the School and to me.”
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