Refuge in Drama by
100
(190 Stories)

Prompted By Favorite Teacher

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I’ve been privileged to have had many fine teachers throughout my schooling and even professionally. They have enlightened, challenged, and inspired me. But one provided something different–a sense of being part of a group and feeling welcome. That was Mr. Charles E. Gauntt, sometimes known as Mr. G, sometimes as Chuck, my high school drama teacher for three years. Mr. Gauntt was an odd-looking man, narrow shouldered and broad in the beam. His hairline had moved far back, revealing a smooth forehead. He had bags under his bulging eyes, and a receding chin. He looked like a cross between a bullfrog and Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

Mr. Gauntt had a way of making the drama department inclusive, even though the word wouldn't have been used at that time.

Despite, or maybe because of his appearance, Mr. Gauntt was an excellent character actor and skilled director. Besides his directorial and teaching responsibilities at our high school, he took on roles in community theater, where I volunteered during the summer. There, he played Grandpa Vanderhof in You Can’t Take it with You–from a wheelchair after he broke his leg. The show must go on: a valuable lesson.

He taught me a lot about drama, technical theater, acting, and directing, assigning me to assistant direct Mr. Roberts and helped me survive the chaos of a crew of teenage boys. More than that, Mr. Gauntt had a way of making the drama department inclusive, even though the word wouldn’t have been used at that time. Somehow everyone in his classes and plays learned to collaborate as an ensemble and respect each other. No matter that we were a motley combination of jocks, cool kids, geeks, and outsiders who for whatever reason didn’t fit in. In drama class, we did. There, I made the first longstanding friends of my life.

The theater, backstage, and the drama office became a refuge from the standard difficulties of high school and for me, from a strained home life. In class and rehearsals, I could escape a home full of stress and conflict, feel a sense of accomplishment, and have a hell of a lot of fun. When a character in Pride and Prejudice got appendicitis three days before the show opened, Mr. Gauntt tapped me to go on for her, and supported me all the way. Others felt similarly supported, and sometimes we had alumni visit who had become professionals in the performing arts thanks to Mr. Gauntt.

Unfortunately life did not go well for Mr. Gauntt after I graduated. Likely he was bisexual but closeted, and had a mental illness (possibly bipolar disorder) that wasn’t well diagnosed at the time. After a manic/psychotic break, he received electroconvulsive therapy, which was much stronger than it is today, and had periods of memory loss. He died a few years later.

I couldn’t find an image of Mr. Gauntt that I could scan, but when I opened my senior yearbook, I found a written message from him: “My dear Marian: You are NOT leaving, you will always be here and welcome. All my love and thanks, Mr. G.” Thank you, Mr. Gauntt, for making me feel welcome and showing me that I belonged.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a lovely tribute to a man who undoubtedly felt like an outsider himself so had learned to make his drama class and productions mesh like a family. That is not an easy task, particularly when assembled from the diverse group that you have described. In fact, it is an art form in and of itself, but working together toward the accomplished goal of getting the production off the ground is the end task that keeps everyone focused and he helped everyone keep the eye on the prize.

    I, too, became lifelong friends with my fellow voice and drama majors at my performing arts camp (Suzy went there too, just before I attended; John Zussman and I overlapped, but he is a bit older). There, we competed for roles, but once cast, we worked together to make the shows shine. They truly are my lifelong friends – since we were teens – and for two years now, have Zoomed once a month to stay in touch. It sounds like your Mr. G would have fit right in.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Mr. G’s message in your yearbook says it all. You did not leave him because you remember him in this lovely tribute for the important role he played in your life.

  3. Suzy says:

    This is a lovely story about a teacher who made a big difference for you. He obviously had a high opinion of your abilities, tapping you to go on in Pride and Prejudice on three days notice! And how touching to go back now and discover that message in your yearbook!

  4. Thanx Mare for this touching tribute to the drama teacher who was such a support for you – and certainly for many of your classmates who found their voices in his class.

    And how wonderful that you took over as understudy with only 3 days notice and Mr G’s encouragement!

  5. A very affecting piece. What a sad ending for a man who gave so much. It would be so interesting to learn about the other parts of his life that you didn’t see as a student of Mr. Gauntt.

  6. Susan Bennet says:

    A moving tribute, Marian, and a touching portrait of your young self at a tender turning point. I think that so many of us are remembering here the non-academic classes/activities and teachers that inspired us because they allowed us to be free and joyful and, as you say, accepted without judgment. Your compassion for Mr. Gauntt is admirable. I wish you luck in your online search for his story, but I think that perhaps all you need to know is already in your heart.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    This was a very moving story, and I am glad the prompt brought back some good memories and thoughtful understanding of a remarkable teacher. High school is not an easy time and he made a difference in your life.

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