Tara Whitman, West Orange High School’s director of theater, has been an active member in the performing-arts community for more than 20 years. She is an alumna of West Orange High School and Thespian of Troupe 1983. Whitman studied theater at Savannah College of Art & Design and then earned her bachelor’s degree in theater studies, with a minor in education from the University of Central Florida.
What do you love most about your school?
I love that West Orange has history. I find myself moved by seeing or hearing traditions that continue from my time as student of West Orange and even before.
What brought you to the school?
I graduated from West Orange in 2002, where I had been welcomed into the theater department and loved every moment I spent there. After I graduated, I remained involved with the West Orange theater department. Ken Rush hired me to choreograph his musical the following year. He gave me my first professional gig, and my résumé grew. In 2015, my dream came true, when I was able to become the second theater teacher and work alongside Mr. Rush. He retired in 2017, and I’ve held the reins ever since.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love working with the thespians and advanced theater students on our after-school productions. My ninth- through 12th-graders are extraordinary. If you want to watch a modern teenager put their phone away and work on a project and see it through, you need to watch my students at work. We are usually the last ones off campus and often because they want to stay and finish the job. We put together professional-quality productions, and every aspect is student-executed.
What motivates you and pushes you to do your best?
I have this desire to always ask for my students to do better than they did last time: build a better set, sing a better solo, sew a better seam. I am motivated to give my students a better show process and production each and every time.
What’s the nicest thing a student or faculty member has done for you?
Students who share genuine gratitude for what they learned from me or validation of what translates to their time in college and beyond is nice enough. Seeing my alumni return to support the next generation of theater students always means a lot.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
I travel when I can and enjoy seeing as much live theater as possible. I don’t really have much spare time (because of) our rigorous work and performance schedules, but I like to spend down time with my family — especially my niece and nephews: Reese, Shawn and Beau.
What’s your favorite restaurant and favorite meal?
San Jose’s is my favorite local restaurant. We grew up with a favorite Mexican restaurant in Wisconsin, and I missed it very much until my family found San Jose’s. I also love Il Pescatore in Colonialtown. Additionally, I love pizza. I have a theory that even bad pizza can be good.