Teaching through theater

Teaching through theater

March 8th, 2012 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Baylor's Zach Watson gets a hug from Assistant Coach Schaack Van Deusen, left, and Head Coach Ben Nelson, right, after taking first place in the 126 weight class at the TSSAA wrestling finals at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo in Franklin, Tenn., in this file photo.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


Age: 68.

Hometown: Chattanoooga.

Family: Wife Beth, daughters Sarah and Elizabeth.

Vocation: Teacher/coach.


Movie: Godfather I and 2.

Book: "Anna Korenina"

Play: "'Midsummer Night's Dream' or anything by Shakespeare."

Song: "Almost anything by The Beatles."

Actor: Laurence Olivier.

Quotation: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers." -- Shakespeare's "Henry the Fifth"

George Schaack Van Deusen will retire as a teacher and coach from Baylor School at the end of this academic year. He was hired at the school in 1977 to teach English and theater and "accidentally" got into coaching wrestling, where he became one of the most respected coaches in the state.

His other passion is the theater. He will direct his 70th major production this spring at the school -- his fourth staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Q: What hooked you on theater?

A: I guess there is a ham in me somewhere. First of all, my first play was with Shakespeare, and I just loved the language. [University of Chattanooga drama professor Dorothy Hackett Ward] taught me how to manipulate the language and create a character. I found that very exciting.

Q: What did you do from there?

A: I did a lot of plays for her, and when I graduated [college], I went to Notre Dame [High School], and I directed and taught there. But I would come back to UC ... and do plays there.

When she retired, she and I and Ralph Thornbury started a small professional theater company called Festival Players that lasted for seven years. I acted and directed for seven years in that company.

Q: Do you approach teaching theater the same way you approach coaching wrestling?

A: I do. People always think it's a weird combination, but I've always thought it was a perfect combination. I'll always quote Hemingway talking about grace under pressure. Well that's what a wrestler faces when he goes out there and faces an opponent. That's what an actor does when he goes out there and faces an audience. They are pretty exposed. No one can be responsible for delivering a line except them.

It's fun to see kids rise to the occasion.

Q: I've always gotten the sense that is what you like. To see a kid do something he didn't think he could do.

A: That's exciting. When you see someone deliver beyond what they dreamed they could deliver.

Q: Was there anything you learned from Ms. Ward that you use still?

A: Yes: Hard work and repetition. Do it again, and do it again.

Q: Do you have a mental list of people, like yourself, you have introduced to theater?

A: Yes. I've forced many a wrestler to be in a play because I thought it would be a great experience for them, mainly because they are already used to using their bodies and dealing with pressure.

Q: What are the proudest moments?

A: Wow. Every Sunday afternoon when they take a curtain call at the end of a run of six performances. We are fortunate to have our own small theater. When I was at UC, we performed at The Tivoli, and we worked so hard, but we only got to do two performances.

The kids at Baylor get to do six. At the last curtain call, I'm supposed to be a tough guy but inevitably I cry because I'm so proud of what they've accomplished.

Q: Are kids any different to teach today?

A: No. They are still bright-eyed, and they want to be challenged and they rise to the challenge. I started my career in 1965 at Notre Dame and that was wonderful and it is still wonderful.

Q: Where did Schaack come from?

A: It's a family name and my middle name. My father has the same and they called him George and me Schaack.