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Drama Teacher Receives State Recognition

At the end of the hall in a classroom behind the stage, Northbrook Junior High Drama Teacher David Downing encourages students to concentrate, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse in order to effectively express themselves.

Downing, who is being recognized by the Illinois Theatre Association with the 2020 Award of Honor, has spent that last 14 years of his 33-year education career in this room. And he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, he says.

“I always tell people I have the best job in the world - and it's true!” he said. “I love getting to know the kids - working with them, and watching them grow as performers and people, and gaining confidence in their skills.”

In announcing the award, Aimee-Lynn Newlan, Executive Director of the Illinois Theatre Association, said, “each year the Illinois Theatre Association recognizes both individuals and organizations for their significant contributions of promoting quality theatre throughout the state of Illinois. We are thrilled to provide this much-deserved recognition to Mr. Downing.”

Eighth-grader Delaney Meek said she has participated in drama classes all three years at NBJH. She has practiced acting since second grade.

“Mr. Downing pushes you out of your comfort zone to try new things. It helps you grow as a person,” she said.

Jillian Grinko, also an 8th-grade student, said she likes drama for the opportunity to make new friends and learn more about herself. “I’ve gotten stronger at improvising, how to develop scenes quickly and think on the spot,” she said.

Maggie Gjermano, a 7th grader, says drama class helps with life skills, too, like public speaking.

 Mr. Downing works with students in a drama class

This year, Mr. Downing is navigating new class activities that can be accomplished within social distancing guidelines. School closed last March on the day of the school musical opening night. The two casts each had one opportunity to perform “High School Musical Jr.” with the only audience being a camera recording the performance, which was later shared with parents and families. That was another opportunity to grow as a performer, said Maggie Gjermano, who was a member of the cast.

“It showed me how flexible you have to be as a performer. You have to roll with the punches to put on the performance,” she said.

In addition to drama classes and the annual spring musical, Mr. Downing also sponsors a drama club in which typically developing students mentor special needs students. Mr. Downing also leads the Starfish Theater Project with North Shore Academy, working with students and NBJH Mentors on respect and collaboration, presenting a student-written show in the spring.

“David Downing has had such a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of kids over the past three decades. While we have had the good fortune to witness his influence at NBJH through his drama classroom and annual musical performances, his contributions to community theater and special needs programs are equally impressive,” said Dr. Scott Meek, NBJH principal.

The awards presentation will take place as part of the Illinois Theatre Association’s Annual Red Carpet Gala - The Show Must Go … Online!, which will be held virtually on Sept. 26.

The ITA provides numerous services throughout Illinois (festivals, conferences, focus groups, professional development workshops, publications). In doing so, the ITA strives to become “the representative association for all things theatre in Illinois.”   The ITA is comprised of six divisions: College/University Theatre, Community Theatre, Creative Drama, Professional Theatre, Secondary School Theatre, and Theatre for Young Audiences.

For more information about the Illinois Theatre Association, visit