Harry S. Truman High School drama teacher Lou Volpe has seen a lot of changes since he started as an English teacher at the school when he was 21 in 1969; one thing he says that has not changed is the kids.
“Kids will be kids,” he said Tuesday. Around him students set up the auditorium for Thursday and Friday’s performances of "Gruesome Playground Injuries."
The performances are some of the last Volpe will be overseeing, as he is set to retire in June.
The 44-year educator, who grew up in Philadelphia, has made Truman’s theater program one of the most respected in the nation.
His career has been marked by a series of firsts.
In 2002, Volpe and his students were tasked with staging “Les Misérables.” It was the first time the play had ever been performed by high school students.
Volpe reflected on how his students were also the first in the nation to perform controversial rock musical “Rent.” He recalled how the positive response to the play was so overwhelming that additional shows had to be added.
The Yardley resident said he will be ending his career with performances of Godspell in the spring.
“[Godspell] really made people feel better. I wanted to end my career at the school with a show that makes people feel great,” he said.
The 64-year-old said that he made his intentions to retire known to the district late last school year. He said he is not leaving because he is tired of the job, but rather because he felt was time to do new things.
“I’ll miss my teaching job,” he said. “But for me, it’s time to move on and experience other things.”
Volpe said he has had offers to work for musical theater companies in New York. He is considering joining one of the companies as a consultant to high school theater programs.
In October, the school board approved a resolution that would name Truman’s auditorium after him.
“It’s a beautiful gesture. Now, even after I leave, people will remember me positively,” Volpe said.
He called the experience “humbling” and “stunning.”
If you go see “Gruesome Playground Injuries"
The performance will be staged at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday at the high school. Donations are requested for tickets.
“Gruesome Playground Injuries” tells the tale of a boy and girl from the time they are 8-year-old until they are 38. Volpe said the story mainly consists of two actors and limited stage changes.
The drama-comedy is being performed for the first time in front of a high school audience at the shows.