Class act

Reno High’s drama teacher directs her students to confidence

Drama teacher Sabrina Celllucci (center) directs students Dustin Dapiran and Lindsay Lambert.

Drama teacher Sabrina Celllucci (center) directs students Dustin Dapiran and Lindsay Lambert.

“Everybody’s equal in my classroom,” says Reno High drama teacher Sabrina Cellucci. “There’s no ‘f’ word or ‘s’ word, no freshmen or seniors. Money, age, sports activities and clothes do not matter in my classroom. There needs to be equality. Without that, the students can’t grow.”

At 8:55 a.m. on a Thursday morning, Cellucci’s beginning drama students shout out the answers to a test they took the day before. The students are enthusiastic and demonstrate their capacity for equality and support, which Cellucci hopes, to some extent, comes from her example and from the safe environment she creates. The questions the class reviews are not so simple. They address theatrical terminology, script subtext and how to internalize the lines of a play. There are quotes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and August Wilson’s Fences, as well as a Charlie Chaplin question.

And then comes the real excitement. The students prepare to do their object pantomimes. Cellucci says the year always begins with this kind of simple activity.

“We start with pantomime, then we go into reader’s theater, then monologues, then scenes. We read more plays in the advanced class.”

Pantomime might be less demanding than other types of performance, but as I watch students go up and take their turns imitating animate but non-living objects, I can see it is difficult for many of them to get in front of an audience and show themselves off. Difficult, but fun.

I am impressed, and later, Cellucci tells me she is also awed by how innovative her students can be.

“In a college theater class doing this activity, most students will do blenders,” she says. “My kids are so creative.”

They demonstrate their ingenuity as they pretend to be bathtub toys, bombs, disco balls, scissors, light switches, pencils and all other kinds of things that tick, click, swirl, flip and scoot.

“My overall motto is to create a safe place to be unsafe,” Cellucci says. “If I can get students to be secure in front of people within themselves, that will transfer into the real world in leaps and bounds.”

After braving 10-second performances in front of their peers, the class moves on to another silent activity called pantomime telephone. Three students leave the classroom, while Cellucci tells a fourth still in the room to act out a mundane task, such as changing a tire or making a pizza. One student comes into the room and watches the first student do a chore; that student then mimics it for the next student. The last student to come in the room guesses what the initial task was. The final guess is rarely the same as the beginning assignment, but every student always performs the movements they see with detail and energy.

And some of these students are the same ones who will end up in the Reno High plays, plays that Cellucci has always directed with lots of success, often selling out the house. This is her eighth year as a fulltime drama and extracurricular theater teacher at Reno High School. This year’s plays are Sabrina Fair, which the movie Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn was based on, and the musical Oliver.

“I usually know the plays the year before. But it also depends on the kids, their talent, money, sets and costumes. So many things go into it,” Cellucci says.

Ultimately, Cellucci loves working with the kids as much as the art of theater. She reveals her passion for teaching when she says, "I was upset this morning before school and to come in and have my students make me laugh makes me so happy. They lift my spirits."