Rachel Harry Named 2017 Excellence in Theatre Education Award Winner

by Michael Eddy

The Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University have announced that Rachel Harry of Hood River, Oregon, has been named the third recipient of the Excellence in Theatre Education Award. Carnegie Mellon, the exclusive higher education partner of the Tony Awards, will present the award to Harry, a drama teacher at Hood River Valley High School, at the 71st Annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 11, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. 

The Excellence in Theatre Education Award recognizes a K-12 theater educator in the U.S. who has demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession. A panel of judges from the American Theatre Wing, The Broadway League, Carnegie Mellon, and other leaders from the theater industry selected Harry from finalists across the nation. Harry will receive $10,000 for her theater program, round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations for her and a guest to New York City, and tickets to the Tony Awards and Gala.

Harry has been teaching students theater at Hood River Valley High School for 30 years. She built the program and created performances that frequently sell out at the high school and a larger middle school theater with 1,100 seats. Among students and colleagues, she is known by her nickname, "Krum."

"I feel strongly that my teaching should be student-driven,” Harry explained. “I want my students to explore and to reach and to fail, because all of those things—especially failure—will lead to new avenues of learning. And that makes for better people, more well-rounded people, whether you go into the theater business or not," said Harry, who was an honorable mention choice for the award in 2016.

"Rachel is an inspiration not only to her current students, but also to the alumni she continues to follow as they go out into the world. Her colleagues admire her for her selfless nature and for her work with her students. She is preparing well-rounded, responsible citizens for success in whatever fields they choose. She inspired us when we heard her story, and we are honored to present the Excellence in Theatre Education Award to her," said Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing.

"One of the best experiences we have as the exclusive higher education partner of the Tony Awards is recognizing teachers, who inspire students every day to go out and make a difference. We think Rachel is an exemplary role model," said Dan J. Martin, dean of Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts.

A former dancer, Harry is a native of northern Wisconsin. She earned her bachelor's degree in English and theater at Central Washington University, where she also earned her master's degree in theater production. In addition to her Hood River teaching position, she is an instructor at Columbia Gorge Community College. Her philosophy on teaching, she said, is that her students must be given the ability to fully and actively create their own successes and failures.

She credits her former mentor and high school teacher, Richard Webber, for guiding her toward the path she has taken in her career and life. "Webb opened the door to the possibility of, 'I can try anything.' And that's what I try to pass along to my students," she said.

Harry's arts influence extends to her family. She has two children: Duncan, 21, a recent magna cum laude music composition graduate of Ithaca College in New York, and Tay Camille Lynne, 25, an Austin, TX, film student who recently presented a short documentary at South by Southwest.

About Excellence in Theatre Education Award
Behind every great performance is inspiration, and behind that inspiration is a great teacher. Carnegie Mellon University is the first-ever higher education partner of the Tony Awards. The partnership commenced during 2014, the year in which the university's School of Drama celebrated its 100th year of granting degrees.

The CMU School of Drama is the oldest drama degree-granting program in the United States. In the past century, CMU has produced hundreds of Tony nominees and 41 Tony winners—eight in 2013 alone!

Through the partnership with the Tony Awards and CMU, the Excellence in Theatre Education Award was created to help recognize a K-12 theater educator in the U.S. who embodies the highest standards of the profession and demonstrates a positive impact on the lives of students, advancement of the theater profession and a commitment to excellence. The winner is announced at the annual Tony Awards.

2017 Winners and Honorable Mentions

Rachel Harry
Theatre Teacher, Hood River Valley High School, Hood River, OR

Honorable Mentions
Beth Baur
Teacher, Memorial High School, West New York, NJ

Hugh Copeland
Founder and Artistic Director, The Hurrah Players, Inc., Norfolk, VA

Sarah Crowell|
Artistic Director, Destiny Arts Center at Destiny Arts Center, Oakland, CA

Carl Dickerson
Fine Arts Teacher, Sky Harbour Elementary Dolphin Drama, San Antonio, TX

David Green
Director, Musical Theatre University, Rancho Mirage, CA

Edmond Guay
Teacher, Avondale High School - Avondale Theatre Company, Auburn Hills MI

Sylvia Haynie
Director of Theater, Stratford Academy, Macon, GA

Erica Heilmann
Theatre Arts/English Teacher (Drama Director and Choreographer), Thornton Fractional South High School, affiliated with Oak Lawn Community Theatre,
Lansing, IL

Nancy Lee
Producing Artistic Director, Washburn High School Performing Arts Department at Washburn High School, Minneapolis, MN

Jessica Lisboa
Theatre Teacher, North Star Academy, Newark, NJ  

Ana Mederos Blanco
Drama Teacher, Coral Reef Senior High School, Miami, FL

Toby Orenstein
Founder and Artistic Director, Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, Columbia, MD

Cheryl Penland
Theatre Arts Teacher/Fine Arts Department Chair, Trimble Tech High School, Fort Worth, TX

Troy Powell
Union Public Schools Director of Theater, Union High School, Tulsa, OK

Lorraine Robinson
Senior Director of Programs, Sitar Arts Center, Washington, DC

Larry Robinson
Drama Teacher, Central Academy of Technology and Arts, Monroe, NC

Greg Shaw
Theatre Teacher, Pittsburg High School, Pittsburg, KS

Wendell Tabb
Teacher, Hillside High School, Durham, NC

Betty Walpert
Theater Director and Teacher, Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, Augusta, GA

Rhonda Wilson
Artistic Director, Star Center Children's Theatre, Inc, Gainesville, FL