Law or theater–that was the decision Mo West considered for many years, even contemplating starting a consultancy to advise and teach trial lawyers how to present their opening and closing statements as she considers this the equivalent of theater’s script analysis.
Thankfully for George School, Mo selected theater. “Art is part of my life, it is the air I breathe,” said Mo. “In graduate school, I was drawn to educational theater and by that, I mean the off, off Broadway productions as it allows risk taking where we can learn. We can learn from the audience and do not have to determine success by box office receipts.”
Mo has been George School’s theater director for over 20 years, training students to use the Meisner Technique which is “being able to live truthfully under an imaginary circumstance.” Living truthfully is central to Mo and Quaker principles. “Truth is not the same for everyone,” explained Mo. “Your life circumstances and experiences provide you with unique perspectives which should be used and allowed to be heard by others.” Mo also draws upon students’ experiences as members of the George School community in her teaching which is very valuable. She is profoundly grateful that the arts and theater are part of our George School history and that the school supports artistic freedom.
While the ongoing pandemic has complicated the way theater productions are produced, Mo remains committed to showcasing our students’ talents with three productions this year. As the director, Mo selects the theme and the show titles which often reflect global topics to deepen the educational component of theater at George School. This year she decided to convene a small group of students to help advise her on the theme and the productions. “I did this because it was important to allow students to have a say in things as so much is not within their control this year,” said Mo. “I also wanted to know where they were mentally, both in their personal thoughts but also in relation to societal issues. The theme we chose was Healing Dialogue.”
COVID-19 has also forced the adoption and incorporation of technology which is a positive in Mo’s opinion. “We have to live life going forward and I hope we will continue to keep aspects that have worked well. For example, the ability to have online masterclasses with skilled practitioners is a wonderful development. In casting the fall show, I wanted to be inclusive and select the best cast. As a result, we had three actors who participated by Zoom. This changed our set design and how the story was told but I was excited to experiment in this way. We need theater right now, we need the arts. The arts allow us to communicate and understand others’ perspectives, enjoy each other, and laugh. The ability to communicate deep messages and/or make people laugh are both equally important and valuable.”
Prior to becoming the director, Mo taught literature at George School for five years. Reflecting upon teaching these two different subjects Mo observed that “the relationship between an arts teacher and the student is different. It is different because when you teach the arts, the focus is on the student. They are the subject because it is about the student’s self-discovery and how they express their art.”
Mo’s all-time favorite theater production is A Midsummer Night’s Dream which she has produced three times at George School. There is always something new to learn in the retelling and each production is different because of the people involved and the experiences they bring. Her ideal production would be to produce A Midsummer Night’s Dream once again, but this time have the three previous leading cast members come back to perform with current students. Students would perform all three nights but would act with a different lead cast each night so there would be three very different interpretations and students would be able to learn from alumni.
When Mo is not in the classroom or rehearsals, she can be found in her office. As head of the Arts Department, her other passion (besides theater) is to ensure that all the visual and performing arts continue to thrive at George School. “The arts are an intrinsic part of the school and strengthen the individual student’s education–promoting creative problem-solving, self-expression, and collaborative communication.”