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Act III: Solomon Takes the Stage

photo by Kristen Wheeler

Amelia Anthony

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It is 7:00 a.m. on August 10, and theater teacher Jamaal Solomon is getting ready for his first day working at high school.  Usually, his 2-year old daughter is up before him, but today his house is quiet. High school is a new, uncharted frontier, and as always, first days are daunting.

“I’ve always taught middle school,” Solomon said.  “English, theater, math, and special needs. But I saw this job was open and I just knew I had to have it.”

It was a process of interviews, waiting and decisions, but when he got the job, he knew it was the one for him.  He was inheriting an already established department, with everything planned out down to the productions he would be directing, but he embraced it fully.

Solomon’s theater career began before his teaching career: in college when he participated in his first play after being raised in show choir, and later in the middle of Japan, where he discovered directing as a stationed NAVY seal looking for a way to pass the time.  During his three years in Japan, he directed and participated in many plays, while also managing his military responsibilities. However, after years of travel, he settled down in Florida, met his wife, and started a family.

“My military background still plays into my teaching style today,” Solomon said.  “I’m a laid back kind of guy unless you’re not managing your time.”

Managing his time is also an important part of Solomon’s everyday life.  Besides directing the theater department and now teaching full time, he’s also involved in outside productions, directs at theaters and playhouses across Orlando, and has a daughter.  Solomon considers himself deeply involved in the community and local arts.

On Aug. 10, however, his high school teaching career finally began.  Although he had never taught high school class before, he has been directing high school plays for over 10 years. Even still, his first day was intimidating.

But the full 7-period day, where he met all of his students for the year and started teaching classes ranging from Theater 1 to Competition, went almost perfectly. His theater background has left him superstitious, however, as it does with most actors.

“All the theater superstitions are true,” Solomon said. “I’ve almost died on stage so many times, in so many countries. It’s real.”

As Solomon reminisced about worldwide musical tours, directing Japanese plays, meeting his wife, lucky clothing items, and his favorite production (Children of Eden), he also began to discuss the future of the theater department and what the next years hold as he develops and changes the way operations are run. He wants to improve the lights and sound in the auditorium and constantly work to better his relationships with his students, while still helping them learn along the way.  Solomon already has goals for the department: growth, change, and fun.

“I am an odd duck,” Solomon said. “And I believe change is vital to theater.”

As always, however, the first few days have come with setbacks and unexpected responsibilities. Within the first two weeks of the school year, he has had to take on more than most teachers would face in a season, including changing the way tech is run and holding auditions, callbacks, castings and the first rehearsals for the fall production of The Odd Couple, while still maintaining a teaching atmosphere in the classroom.

“I want to change everything about how the lighting is set up, and I can’t do it alone,” Solomon said. He also has goals for the Thespian troupe- straight superiors at state competitions and a spot at nationals.

Although some students were apprehensive about the changes within the department, Solomon has already made strong connections. Students felt like they had known him for years.

“He’s always patient with us, and everything is so relaxed in the department,” junior Alyssa Gaytan said.  

Through trials and change, however, Solomon’s objective has remained: to change the department for the good of everyone involved, encourage the involvement of new faces, and to keep pursuing his passion along with his new students.  Through everything, he hopes to teach students the importance of theater and how it can change them.

“It’s everything I am,” Solomon said. “I wouldn’t be who I am today without theater. I’m a storyteller, and I believe acting tells a story like nothing else.”

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Act III: Solomon Takes the Stage