New theater teacher Noelle Viñas


Sandra Webb

Viñas discuses some of her goals for the theater program this year with students and parents at Back to School Night

Actor, director and playwright Noelle Viñas landed the position of part-time theater director with dreams of raising a bigger and stronger theater department.

Viñas was born in Uruguay and lived there until her family immigrated to the U.S. at age 5. She was raised by two parents who both taught English and perhaps developed her love of teaching from them. R. L. Mirabal introduced her to theater during her high school years at Lake Braddock and continues to run their theater department.

Viñas began teaching when she graduated high school and worked as an acting coach for her friends. She moved on to writing, directing and producing plays during her time at Emerson College, developing her affinity for teaching. “I found that being the leader of a team and sharing information with people was really enlightening and it made me feel good,” Vñas said.

After spending time all over Boston and D.C., Viñas plans to stick with AHS. She considers one play and one musical the essentials and hopes to add more theater events such as a small, black box production and a Class Acts competition at the end of the year.

Farther in the future, Viñas hopes to create collaborations with D.C. theaters she has worked with in the past including the Voices of Now program at Arena Stage and Text Alive with Shakespeare Theater. She wants to introduce students to several other theaters have programs that allow them to earn professional credits at a young age.

Viñas feels especially close to the Theater Without Borders program and wants to support it. “I love that whole program because I’m an immigrant myself,” Viñas said. She also aims to direct a bilingual show in support of the Theater Without Borders program. The show would have a Spanish-speaking cast and an English-speaking cast and both shows would perform the same weekend so that audiences could choose which one they wanted to see.

Viñas plans to get involved with the AHS community and sees the bilingual production as an outreach.

Upcoming theater events are: a production of Our Town that will be going up the week before Thanksgiving break.

To teach my mixed level class I am: trying very hard to teach everybody the basics and then going to advancement… So I’m trying to teach them the basics of what things are called, where theater comes from, what basic theater plays you have to know.

The main lesson I’d like students to learn in my class is: that theater is not something that you need to commit your life to… Even if you take this class and you don’t know if you want to do theater for the rest of your life, there’s always something you can get out of theater. You learn how to be on a team better, you learn how to collaborate with people better, you all learn how to put on something huge and really hard and very time consuming and very ego-ridden together. So, if nothing else, theater always prepares people for the rest of life. It’s never a waste of your time unless you’re really negative about it.

Theater shaped me as a person because: it has always enabled me to make text come alive and stepping into other characters is a really amazing way to find empathy in every situation. So the good thing about being a theater person is no matter how judgey you are, or no matter how much you really feel that you can only see one side of things, having to do theater for a very long time makes you learn to see all sides of situations. And that, in general, theater makes you a better person. So I definitely feel that theater has definitely made my life better on the whole. It’s made the lives of people who know me a lot better because I can empathize much better with them.

I think middle and high school theater departments are important because: theater is a place where everybody can fit in. Theater is a place where people that don’t fit in learn how to get along with each other and with the school. It also is a place where people can learn to be outgoing at the same time as learning to be themselves. Its something that you can’t remove from the high school experience… It makes life more interesting and it makes learning more interesting because you can really just plug theater into anything… There’s always a way to make text come to life and I think, without that, sometimes subjects can be dead. I’m very interdisciplinary and I love all subjects so it’s very big to me that there’s a way that we pull that out of people. And that’s what theater does, theater sort of pull the subjects out of like dead area and raises them up.

My advice for aspiring actors is: never disregard something that somebody tells you or teaches you because it can always be used… I would say never ever ever just ignore someone because you don’t understand the situation. There’s always some truth and there’s always some good to find out of everything… And maybe everybody doesn’t believe that everything happens for a reason but… if you are there to have a good experience, you can always get something good out of it.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is: “You’ve earned an A in my class but I need you to remember that it’s about the process of putting on a production and not about the product… sometimes the art happens in the distractions.” I’ve never really forgotten that.

My most influential teacher was: a really excellent play writing teacher called Andrew Clark at Emerson College when I went there and he was really really great.

My acting role model is: this woman who acts in Boston, her name is Marianna Bassham… I think she is really really awesome. She has a low voice and she often lays these really strong female characters. And aside from her, Melinda Lopez who is also an actress in Boston and also a really famous playwright.

My impression of AHS is that: I really love the kids here. I think you guys have a lot of spirit and you guys sometimes don’t know it, like you guys have school spirit but you’re not aware of it. It’s like you don’t know that you’re great. Everything I’ve gotten from you guys is that you’re really helpful, on the ball, and you’re honest as anything. And that, I think, is my favorite characteristic so far… here everybody just sort of meet you where they are… they’re really there with you and they don’t for a second talk down to people and I think that is probably the coolest thing about Annadale because that’s not something you can teach people to do. You can try after year and years and years but when someone comes to you and is just honest… and just tells you what they need, that the best place to start any relationship… that’s the best way.

My plans for the theater department this year are: trying to work [class scheduling] out with the counselors, … but of course everything [has] already been scheduled so its really hard. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get enough kids to be interested in theater and there will be enough school spirit that I can teach full time next year. I really care about you guys and we really need to get the program going and I plan to be here for a while so it just makes sense for me to put a lot of work in it at the front.

Our productions this year will be: at least one play [and] at least one musical. I was thinking about doing a very small laboratory or black box production. Black box is like really intimate audience really experimental theater, usually kind of like potentially ground breaking, more modern work. And then, hopefully, if we can get the thespians up and running since I know we lost a lot of thespians in the last year, we’ll be able to take a one act to the state festival… So hopefully all of that will happen, but first we have to make sure that the basics happen, so a play and a musical. And once I know that we can do those things, then we can put in all the extras.”

As for traditions such as the Drug Play and Class acts I: am definitely stalling the drug play because it normally happens very quickly in the first semester… As for Class Acts, I know all about Class Acts. I think it sounds super awesome, but I don’t feel that the kids are ready yet. So if it happens this year it’ll probably happen at the end of the year like a final project. So the seniors who are ready to go can do their parting show and direct people, the kids who are brand new have already had a year of theater under their belt and it can be a great send off as people graduate or as people move to the next grade. I really respect all the traditions that come here. I think they’re really cool, they come with the Annandale community and every single theater has different traditions… because theater is very tradition based, it’s very ritualistic. So it’s really really cool that you guys have these traditions, I just have to make sure that I can teach you stuff before I move on.