Portland High School theatre teacher Melody Williams Allen has been named Sumner County School System High School Teacher of the Year. Allen advanced from being named Portland High School Teacher of the Year.
Allen grew up in Portland where she attended elementary school, junior high and high school. She graduated from PHS in 1981. She received a Bachelor of Arts in history and English in 1986 from Western Kentucky University. Later she earned a Master of Arts in English from WKU.
She began her teaching career as an interim teacher in English and Theatre in April 1986 at PHS. She continued at PHS where she has taught various levels of English, and in the spring of 1997 she became the full-time theatre teacher.
Allen has built a strong theatre program at PHS. She now teaches Theatre I, Theatre II, Theatre III and Technical Theatre Arts. She has served as Fine Arts Department Chair since 2002.
Allen is known for the outstanding performances of her students, and she has never been afraid to tackle a difficult production.
Her favorite plays are the musicals she has directed along with the choir directors who assisted in the production. She singles out present and past choir directors who have assisted her. They include Kelly Wiggins, Lauren Gray, and the current choir director Ben Warren.
Her favorite plays and musicals which she has directed include M*A*S*H, Harvey, Arsenic and Old Lace, Father of the Bride, Oklahoma!, Monsters in the Closet, George Washington Slept Here, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Bye Bye Birdie, The Beverly Hillbillies, Guys and Dolls, Robin Hood, Once in a Lifetime, A Midsummer Nights Dream, and Alice in Wonderland.
Allen chooses the plays she directs based on the number of students and the gender mix in her classes. She chooses plays to allow each student in Theatre II and Theatre III to have an acting role. She also looks at the historic significance of the play from the theatrical canon or as a good reflection of the time period.
PHS junior Destiny Escue said, “Mrs. Allen has shaped me into the hard-working and determined individual I am today. She has instilled a “can do” attitude in me and taught me to never take “no” as an answer. She has also encouraged me to always pursue my dreams fearlessly.”
Several humorous moments have occurred in her productions. Allen doesn’t find set or wardrobe malfunctions during a performance humorous at the time, but later they can laugh about it.
Allen said, “During Bye Bye Birdie, our stage crew misheard a cue and opened the curtain five minutes too earlyfor a full production number called ‘Telephone Hour.’ All the actors weren’t on stage when the curtain opened, but our fabulous accompanist, Nancy Slaughter, realized what had happened, hit the necessary intro note on the piano, and the kids who were on state started singing. They covered lines and solos for the kids who weren’t there and the audience didn’t realize that we had cut the first scene short and skipped about seven pages of script. By the time I made it backstage for ‘damage control,’ our stage manager, Alex McNeil had already decided where to insert the plot information that had been skipped, and they didn’t even need me.”
Allen states that things in production go beyond rehearsal. Costume pieces, building sets, lighting, sound, and the marketing of the plays are major areas in a production.
“We are proud of PHS theatre to be self-supporting, which means that our ticket revenue covers the cost of our productions. That is actually pretty rare in high school or college theatre. We do no fundraisers to cover production costs, because I believe that students need to understand that theatre is a business, and that businesses have to run in the black or they fold.
“Most people don’t understand the amount of money required to produce a show. The royalties alone on a musical can run from $1,000 to $2,500. With the added costs of set construction, costumes, makeup, and printing, a show can easily run from $2,500 to $6,500 in basic costs,” Allen said.
Allen believes that all children should have the opportunity to explore their interests, develop their talents, use their abilities, expand their creativity, and express their opinions while learning to value the interest, talents, abilities, creativity, and opinions of others.
“I believe my role is to model enthusiasm for learning while fostering creativity, setting high standards, and encouraging respect for others,” Melody said in describing her philosophy of education.
During her elementary school years, Allen said that she was influenced by South Portland Elementary School (now Clyde Riggs) teacher Juanita Grantham and the school librarian, Sue Dye, who allowed her to check out as many books as she wanted each week. Influential teachers during her middle and high school years include Coach Don Curry, Coach Bill Jung, Peggy Smith, Gene Scheppe, Coach Carl Fussell, and Steve Driver.
PHS principal David Woods said, “Mrs. Allen is a ‘Rock Star’ teacher. When I go into the theatre to observe her in action, it is as if there are 10 of her in that room. She is literally being pulled in several different directions at one time. How she can manage everything that is going on in there is a site to behold. She is loved by her students and peers alike, and we are fortunate that she is a Panther. We are very thankful and humbled that she was named Sumner County Teacher of the Year for high schools. The fact that there are so many great teachers in Sumner County makes this a very prestigious honor for Mrs. Allen and PHS.”
Allen is married to Randy Allen. They have two daughters, Mary Beth Allen and Chelsea Allen. Mary Beth teaches Marketing and Business classes at PHS, and Chelsea is a wardrobing assistant for Cirque De Soleil “The Beatles Love” in Las Vegas.