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Q&A: Burke High’s drama teacher shares her passion for theater education

Posted On Sep 6, 2018, 15:15 PM by Courtney Mattern
Emily takes a selfie in front her students when they're on a school bus ready to go to a master class.

Omaha Burke High School teacher Emily Mokrycki has spent the last five years ensuring her drama students don’t miss out on a single learning opportunity. As one of the very first teachers to sign up for our Nebraska High School Theater Academy, she has brought bus loads of students to master classes with Broadway touring artists and signed up for professional feedback for her students on school musicals.

Tomorrow evening at Broadway Ball, we are excited to honor Mokrycki for her dedication to theater education. She’ll be presented with The Broadway League’s 2018 Educator Apple Award for her role in making NHSTA a success and for always striving to introduce theatrical skills to her students. Only four teachers from across the nation are selected for this award each year.

“It is a huge honor,” she told me. “NHSTA has helped advocate the importance and significance of the arts and a sense of credibility at my high school.”

In this Q&A, she shared her passion for theater education and tips for both teachers and students. 

How long have you been teaching theater?
I have been teaching and directing theater for 15 years. I taught for seven years at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School where I started the after-school Drama program. I am starting my eighth year directing and teaching at Omaha Burke High School.

What do you love most about being a drama teacher?
I love watching students as they grow not just as performers or technicians, but in confidence. Watching how they embrace the challenge of the role they are playing or the project they are creating, something magical happens. They start to believe they have something important to offer the world, they start to work together, and they begin to understand they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Why do you participate in Nebraska High School Theater Academy?
The main reason is for my students to have access to master classes and networking between schools for both students and teachers. My students look at NHSTA not as a competition but a place where they belong.

Emily and dozens of students take a group photo on the red carpet of the Showcase
Emily Mokrcyki and her students from Burke High School on the red carpet during the NHSTA Showcase.

What’s your favorite memory from NHSTA?
I have many, but my cast of The Beauty and the Beast performing “Gaston” at the showcase in 2016 was a highlight. I was a very proud director of the energy and dedication they demonstrated.

Why is theater education important to you?
Theater teaches valuable life skills that help in all areas and careers including confidence, creativity, focus, accountability, dedication, teamwork, determination, problem solving, and learning how to receive constructive feedback. Most of all theatre teaches empathy, how to truly step into someone else's shoes and experience the world from a different perspective.

Watch this NHSTA master class video featuring Emily and her students.

What’s your advice for other drama teachers?
At times you may feel like an island, but there are so many amazing educators across the state that want to help. It is also important to be able to recognize when you need to rest and take time for yourself so you can be the best version of you for not only your students, but your family and friends.

Do you have a key tip you give to your students?
Never be afraid of failing, it is how you learn and how you treat people is always more important than any role or accolade.

You can learn more about the Nebraska High School Theater Academy on our website.