Catching ‘Theatre Bug’ creates love for teaching but doesn’t stop love of performing

Janka Gerber

Those who love theatre can remember the first time they were bit by ‘the bug.’ That bug being an intense passion for theatre and performing. For some, that becomes a passion for sharing theatre or directing, such as drama teacher Natasha Fischer who won the 2022 Teacher of the Year award.

“I have been teaching here [Lafayette High School] for 13 years. What does it mean to me? Everything. I actually heard somebody say on This Is Us something about how there is so much more power in a performance when you’re standing in the wings. So, being on this side of it and teaching kids to be passionate about theatre, how wonderful it is to be on stage and have confidence and to be somebody else as a character is just my drive and my passion for this job. I just love the relationships I build with these kids and just the fun we get to have in my classroom,” she said. 

Theatre is often used as an escape from reality, and Fischer admires it for that ability.

In 2017, drama teacher Natasha Fischer was in a production of “In The Heights” where she played the main role of Vanessa. (photo courtesy of Natasha Fischer)

“You can be whoever you want to be on stage. Nobody is going to judge you, they judge the character you play, so you can actually put your heart and soul into something and not feel like the world is going to be against you. I also love it because it just takes me out of some of the stuff I have to deal with in my everyday life, and I get to be a part of somebody else’s world,” Fischer said.

Fischer said she caught the theatre bug when she was very young though performing with a woman who is well known and beloved in the theatre world of St. Louis. 

“I’ve been involved in theatre since I was eight. My mom asked me what I wanted to do and I said I want to go to a camp, Becky Viola’s camp. So when I was eight years old I did my first theatre camp and performance. It was at the Chesterfield Mall in the center court that we did a performance and I remember I told my mom that I wanted to be a performer after that. She took me to everything, to be a part of every kind of theatre production,” Fischer said. 

Becky Viola started teaching theatre in 1988 and she retired in 2018. After doing theatre for more than 30 years, she has seen many of her students grow to be in music videos, Netflix shows and of course into teachers, spreading their love for theatre like she once did. 

“It brings tears to my eyes to think that what I did, and I love doing it, had such a huge impact on somebody,” Viola said. “It’s an emotional, mental, physical, spiritual effect you have on these people. It’s a heavy load to carry to know that you’re making this huge change possibly in someone’s life. It makes you proud and it’s exciting and encouraging to know that what you did didn’t fall by the wayside and not get put to good use.”

Viola has fond memories of Natasha Fischer, who she knew as Natasha Torro, from when she was 8 years old. Fischer’s passion and drive made a lasting impression on a woman who has helped and worked alongside hundreds of young kids and students. 

“I remember Natasha was very interested in theatre, energetic, enthusiastic and her mother was involved so she wanted to get involved. That’s where she may have originally gotten the bug. She performed very well, I remember her well even though I only had her for a year,” Viola said.

Viola cherishes performance nights, and being able to see the kind of impact theatre has on people’s lives, especially those who come into the theatre world as shy people and come out with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. 

“It’s so crazy to me, because now my students talk about Becky Viola, and Becky will come to me and it’s weird that she and I work on a different level and side now from when she was the first person I had ever performed for [around] 30 years ago, it’s just crazy. I still hold her on a bit of a pedestal because she’s the one who got me passionate. She’s that great, she’s just kind, passionate and willing and that’s what turned me on to theatre,” Fischer said. 

Fischer’s passion for theatre extends beyond the bounds of Lafayette. She has made it a goal to take part in a professional performance of some kind every year. Even through the pandemic she has been able to find pathways into the world of professional theatre.

In 2019, Fischer was involved in a production of “Antigone” where she performed as Antigone 7. (photo courtesy of Natacha Fischer)

“With the pandemic I haven’t been doing a whole lot. I try to do something professional once a year, I try to direct or be on stage professionally. More so on the directing side because I find that’s where my passion is. I just have to be in the theatre somehow. My thing this year was that I performed for the Kennedy Center for a playwright competition,” Fischer said. “A woman who won the competition for the show that she wrote, asked me to be in the performance for the Kennedy Center. The show was about a mom who is stressed so she thought of me. It was all on Zoom unfortunately because people are still not performing live 100%.  It was very cool, and it was a new, completely different experience doing something on Zoom, and being a part of something so big. My little self here in Wildwood, Missouri teaching at Lafayette getting to do something at the Kennedy Center was very cool.”

While enjoying doing theatre in prestigious places such as the Kennedy Center, Fischer also deeply cherishes the memories she has made performing in unconventional places with smaller groups around St. Louis. 

“I have done a million different things, but it’s been mostly downtown St. Louis. I do a lot of things with the different companies down there. I’ve performed at the Centene, the Rep, I’ve done shows in tiny little venues. I did a show called Dog Sees God and we did that on a storefront that we turned into a performance space, so I’ve kind of been all over the place,” Fischer said. 

Fischer’s passion for teaching and introducing kids to theatre were recognized this year in the form of the Teacher of the Year award. Although Fischer is grateful to be recognized, she is more excited about what that recognition means to her students. 

“It means a lot to me, it means that people see my kids. I think that sometimes we get lost in the trenches of school, and my kids work really hard and they put everything into each performance. My improv kids are always working together and putting everything together. Being Teacher of the Year, I feel appreciated, but it’s more that my kids are being seen and heard, and people see all the work that they put on and all the work that they do. That’s what’s important to me, because if they put me as Teacher of the Year, they are putting them on a pedestal,” Fischer said. 

Fischer is also looking forward to the future of Lafayette Theatre Company (LTC), finding great comfort in the fact that things are starting to return to the way they were before restrictions locked the theatre doors. 

“I’m excited to get back,” she said. “I’m excited to be back on the stage and be performing again. Last year was weird and hard and even my improv kids being able to do their shows fully is amazing. And to have a full blown team, I’m just excited for that and seeing us go back to the way we were. Two years ago happened, but now I feel like we’re coming out of the dark.”