Did you know Lady Gaga is a graduate of the Academy of the Sacred Heart School at 91th Street in Manhattan?
Villa Duchesne Oak Hill is part of the Sacred Heart network, and theater director Brian Welch knows that. Welch, who has celebrated 36 years in teaching and the past 27 at Villa knows a lot about education, especially theater production.
The world is his stage. Villa girls are actresses in his big shows.
“I kind of knew I was always going to be a teacher, but I never knew I was going to spend almost my entire career at an all-girls school,” Welch said.
Students bustled in and out of his tidy little office on the top floor of the school building in Frontenac. He tended to their constant inquiries.
Welch grew up in Effingham, IL, an hour and a half due east of St. Louis. He graduated from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO.
The route to St. Louis was not direct. He started teaching in the St. James School District (near Rolla, MO) and taught for five years at highly recognized Helias High School in Jefferson City, MO. “I was supposed to go to Columbia (Mizzou) to work on my masters, but it just didn’t work out,” he said.
These days, he directs theatrical productions at Villa such as the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and a series of one-act plays including Two Lobsters in a Tank, staged managed by one of his seniors, Darian Dugger. He produces the fall musicals and the spring plays.
No one knows better the chances of landing permanent positions on Broadway or in Hollywood movies is about the same odds of winning Powerball twice in a lifetime.
He will never stand in the way of his students pursuing their dreams, though.
He has some real life success stories. Ann Purcell, a Villa graduate, found parts in Broadway shows. She currently works as a theatrical agent.
Other graduates has gone on to land acting parts in television shows and other professional productions. Several are heavily involved today with local St. Louis community theater groups.
Graduate Michelle Hand was the first actor to receive the Kevin Kline Award for excellence in acting. Hand portrayed a child struggling with the affliction of Autism.
Villa Duchesne students are required to take two credits in the arts to meet graduation requirements. Welsh brags about how 55 girls are involved in show choir in a student population of just 300.
His day is booked. As a certified teacher, he teaches five classes during a four-day rotation. He teaches theatre arts, communication arts, media arts, American literature, and speech.
“Teaching is not always about the money. There’s just something magical and indicative to see kids at the very moment they make those wonderful discoveries. Those are rewarding moments,” he said.
Summers offer some breathing space. He and a fellow teacher escort students on European trips to France, Italy and Greece.
Other times, he spends summers reading lots of books or traveling on his own itinerary.
Other times, he is taking student groups to Chicago, or locally to the Loretto Hilton, Fox Theater or the new Peabody Opera House.
“You’d be surprised, some students want to go on those theater trips, and they aren’t even involved in our programs,” he said.
Aside from the school duties, Welsh considers himself a Tennessee Williams buff. He did a dissertation on Tennessee Williams for his masters degree at Lindenwood University. He’s called in often as the local expert on the subject. He knows where Williams lived and where his body is buried at Calvary Cemetery in North St. Louis.
Welsh frets over the changing role of the young students, especially with the heavy outside influence of social networking.
“Our girls still like to do (traditional) things like go to dances, hang out at football games, haunt the malls. I think sometimes, here at Villa, they are drawn inward, away a bit from a very chaotic world.”
And this is all spoken like a true professional who has dedicated his life to teaching young, eager and bright students.