Broadway’s Kate Reinders first stepped into the sensible pumps of Miss Jenn, the newly instated East High drama teacher in Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, in 2019. With Jenn filling the same spiritual space as the original High School Musical’s Ms. Darbus, Reinders had big drama-teacher shoes to fill, indeed.
A product of countless theatre educators herself, Reinders was up to (and excited for) the task, and as she’s sunk into the role, she’s only become more enthusiastic about the role of drama education in kids’ lives. Learn more about Reinder’s own experience with high school musicals, her take on the real East High drama teacher, and more, below.
What was your own experience with theatre education growing up?
Well, I grew up going to small, little Christian schools, so it's not like there was a theatre program or I went to a performing arts high school or anything. But my teachers were 1,000% invested. And I would say, they all were my Miss Jen. There was my choir director who taught me in elementary school, middle school, and high school, Mr. Mark Welling. And at the Muskegon Civic Theatre, they had a great education program for kids, where Judy Johnson, directed me. So, my education was a little bit here and there, but also everywhere.
I vividly remember that in third grade, everybody had to learn Luke 1:1-20 before Christmas. And after you memorized it, you got to pick the part you want it in A Christmas Carol. So of course, I got home from a violin recital one night, and I remembered. And it was late already, past my bedtime.
And my parents said, “No, no, no. You don’t have to learn it by tomorrow.” And I said, “Yes, I do. Because because the faster you learn, the better part you get.” So of course, I learned it that night. And guess which part I picked. I said, “I would like to play Scrooge, please,” even though I was smaller than the boy who ended up playing Tiny Tim.
So, from a very young age, I wanted to play the lead, and I was encouraged to do theatre my whole life. In high school in particular, they normally did musicals every other year, but they did three in a row, so I could be in them, I'm pretty sure. Mr. Welling, my choir director, directed those as well. Mr. Welling, I love him so much.
As you've taken on this role, where you're playing a theatre teacher, has your perspective on theatre education changed at all?
I always knew that they were changing lives. But now I see how much work it could really be and how much it takes over your life. But at the same time, I don't have to do all that groundwork that they do. I just pretend I'm doing it.
Have you spoken to any theatre teachers since you've taken on this role?
I actually met the drama teacher at East High when I went to see their production of Beauty and the Beast and hang out. He is so great and wonderful, and the show was fantastic. It really was good. And I told him, I don't know how he does what he does, because he is clearly so talented and works so hard, and the kids love him. And I told him I hope that I'm doing him justice. I really went to see the real life East High situation and it's even better than I could have imagined.
How do you hope our society’s relationship with theatre education and theatre educators evolves?
I just hope that we put it up there with the importance of English and history and math and science. Because the truth is, theatre is the thing that investigates our humanity and how we connect with each other. And especially in this day and age, when our connections are getting so over the wires, over the air, so social media-ed, the most important thing is how we can relate to each other and understand each other. They always say the way to connect with someone is through stories. And I really do think that that theatre joins us together in a way that no other subject can.