BY CASSIDY NOWOSAD
From teaching acting classes to directing a production to even writing a play of her own, theatre director and Language Arts teacher Shannon Brandt has proved she has dedication.
Having transferred to Cooper City High only last year, Brandt hit the ground running and has directed four productions thus far. Her productions: “Legally Blonde,” “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and a special showcase, have displayed a shift to more eccentric plays.
When she first stepped into the role of director, students expressed to her that they wanted to have a showcase with only the current theatre club members in order to catch the interest of the student body.
The first production wasn’t necessarily a full-scale play or musical; instead, it was a showcase. At a run time of around two hours, it compiled several small, separate performances together to shine a light on the variety of the team’s acting. She said it was a great opportunity to help her learn everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
As for the most recent musical, “Little Shop of Horrors,” Brandt managed to bring in outside professionals and expand the cast to three times its original size.
She developed an interest in theater at three years old, when she saw her first Broadway play, “Annie.” Growing up in New York City, she was surrounded by theatre and still reminisces about days she would spend in her room acting out all of the scenes from “Annie” in front of her stuffed animals. Eventually, she began to create programs and pop popcorn for her neighbors, who watched her perform.
“I did my first play when I was six, and I remember sitting backstage getting my makeup done because I didn’t know how to [do] makeup then, and wondering if I could actually have this be in my life forever,” Brandt said.
Her first director, Sandra Merino, made her value not only what goes into performance, but also what goes into production. She was one of the people who heavily inspired Brandt and showed her that everyone was a valuable asset to the program, even without being onstage.
As an undergraduate, she directed her first outside shows for fringe festivals and did some improvisation as a paid, professional actor. She began her career as a high school theatre teacher; her first main stage production was “Brighton Beach Memoirs” by Neil Simon.
Brandt began to work on writing her own play about the contemporary feminist movement in graduate school at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
“[Everyone]… knows I’m a feminist [and] a huge advocate of women’s rights globally, and it has been stagnant in me,” Brandt said. “I had a grad course two… [where my instructor] was like ‘just do it, just get into it, get your characters ready’ and just it’s there, it’s waiting for me.”
Her science fiction play involves a female protagonist who has a close relationship with her father, despite his occasionally archaic views. The protagonist doesn’t realize the hold the patriarchy still has on women in the modern day, and travels back to the different periods of the feminist movements to view societal dynamics before her birth.
Brandt said her inspiration came from her mother Jasmine Brandt and explained that she was a very strong female role model in her life. Her mother had always been employed full time, and she explained how she learned much of what she knows about feminism from her. As a result, her passion for feminism blossomed in high school, where she would cut class to visit Barnes and Noble. There, she discovered the women’s studies section and found the book called “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls” by Mary Pipher. This book was very influential, as it inspired her feminist ideals.
“Reviving Ophelia” is a nonfiction play about a woman therapist who speaks to the societal pressures on adolescent girls. The book inspired Brandt to read the rest of the novels in the women’s studies section. It influenced her so much that at one point in her life, she wanted to become a therapist. Eventually, this led to her discovery of the different historical waves of feminism, how feminism has evolved, and how it has now become a global controversy.
“We just really need to see our sisters as… [the opposite of] competition. If we band together, there’s more [of a] foundation and we have to set… the precedent that it’s not okay to have female circumcision[,]… not have equal pay [and] not ok for the government in any way, shape, or form to tell women how to regulate their bodies – it’s just not.”
Even though Ms. Brandt has only been at CCHS for two years, her impact has changed the theatre program as a whole.
“Theatre accepts all but not [those with] egos,” she said. “Everyone has a place to shine [here].”
Photo by Sabrine Brismeur