HSPVA grad giving back with new TV show featuring DIY theater tips

In this week’s I am HISD, which features district students, graduates, employees, and volunteers, High School for the Performing and Visual Arts graduate Dan J. Gordon talks about how his theater troupe got its name, what made the New York native fall in love with the Bayou City, and why he shares his passion for the performing arts with the next generation.

You’re the executive artistic director of The Back Porch Players and the creator and producer of Take the Stage, a new TV show for 6–11 year-olds slated to air in 2014 on HoustonPBS. What made you decide to give kids a look behind the scenes at theater productions?

Dan J. Gordon

As an educator for the past 10 years, I’ve been experiencing first-hand how performing arts education helps kids—with self-expression, communication, social skills, and in doing better academically. It’s just really great for kids all around, and kids love doing it because it’s fun!  But many kids haven’t had the opportunity to get involved in the performing arts, so this TV show is a way to reach those kids. A large component of Take the Stage is the “how-to” of it.  We show them how to set up shadow puppetry, break-dance, or design costumes at home. It’s really about making it accessible to all kids.

I hear you have a little experience in improvisation yourself. What can you tell me about that?

That’s right. By the time my friends and I graduated from HSPVA, we wanted to produce a play, but we didn’t have a venue to perform it in. My father let us take over his house for the summer. We used our back porch as a stage, and went dumpster diving for props and set pieces for our first show in 2002.

You’re not originally from Texas, so how did you come to attend HSPVA?

I was born in New York and grew up in South Carolina, but when my father told me we were moving to Houston in 2000, I didn’t want to go at first. I remember thinking, “What’s in Texas?” Then a friend told my Dad about HSPVA, and I flew down and auditioned. Fortunately, I got in as a transfer student. Once I was there, my friends were always taking me out to hear bands, see plays and performances. I fell in love with Houston.

How did your experiences at HSPVA prepare you for your life after graduation?

They definitely provide a well-rounded education and strive to create well-rounded artists. You couldn’t participate in a production if you were falling behind in other classes. They wanted you to do well in all areas. In general, PVA taught me to think creatively. It laid the groundwork for my career in performing arts education and helped prepare me to become a producer.

You’ve worked with young people quite a bit since graduating in 2002. Did you always know you wanted to be an educator?

It’s something that I became initially involved with in high school and grown to be something I love and where I devote most of my time. As soon as I graduated from HSPVA, I worked at Main Street Theater as a teacher, then later in HISD schools and at the Alley Theatre. I’ve also taught in schools and theaters in New York and California.  It’s amazing to be able to expose kids to the performing arts and watch them become more confident. I’ve taught acting, playwriting, shadow puppetry, stage combat, mime, and other subjects. The kids learn about themselves and each other. It’s incredible.

If you know a member of Team HISD who should be featured in I am HISD, please email us at info@houstonisd.org.