“Don’t Cry because it is over; smile because it happened.”
This quote from children’s author, Dr. Seuss, is what Debbie Zimmerman says best describes her recent departure from children’s theater at Motlow.
After 30 years of directing children’s theater productions, Zimmerman is stepping down from the director’s chair.
“It is a bittersweet phase of my career, but I look forward to continuing my classroom instruction and getting to see the children’s plays of the future,” said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman’s involvement with theater at Motlow goes all the way back to her time as a student at Motlow in 1972.
“Dr. Helen White, who is a former Professor of Communication and Theater at Motlow, introduced me into the world of theater when I was cast in the production of ‘Ramo,” explains Zimmerman. “With that production, I fell in love with children’s drama.”
She adds that because of Dr. White, she returned almost a decade later to teach and direct in the theater program that she had come to “love so much.”
In 1982, Zimmerman directed her first play, “The Wizard of Oz.”
Upon taking over the children’s productions, she moved the plays into the gym where she says she was able to invite large numbers of children to attend. Until the productions moved into Power’s Auditorium in 2004, the students were performing for six to seven thousand students a year.
Since her first production, Zimmerman says she has seen the children’s theater grow in popularity over the years.
“Teachers realized that there was no cost to it. It was a community service of a community college and I felt like it was a great community service,” she said. “And we have always tried to direct the classics because that’s what the teachers like.”
Lynchburg Elementary School teacher Dusty Dickey had Zimmerman as a teacher while he was doing his undergrad work at Motlow. Now Dickey has come full circle, from student to teacher. He was among the many who were able to take students to Motlow this year to see Zimmerman’s play. And he is thankful for the opportunity it afforded his students.
“The main thing is to have a resource that close to us that was free. When I taught first grade we would take our classes. A lot of the tales were geared more toward nursery rhymes and fairy tales,” said Dickey, who now teaches fourth grade. “Particularly, the ‘Wizard of Oz’ fell into our curriculum; that allowed us to go (this year).”
In spring 2004, the production was brought to the auditorium due to renovations being made to Copperweld Arena.
Although moving the production into the auditorium would decrease the number of children able to attend the shows, relocating turned out to be a perfect fit and one that has stuck.
Today the children’s productions reach 4,000 children a year and the auditorium allows for a more personal performance from the actors.
For Zimmerman’s final production, she chose “The Wizard of Oz;” which was her first production as children’s theater director.
“What a good way to end. If this was going to be my last production, why not come back to where I started,” she said.
To commemorate her three decades as director, a surprise celebration was recently held in her honor. Co-workers, friends, and former students were all on hand to show their appreciation for her years of service to the arts.
Jeannie Tucker-Brown, Assistant Professor of Communications, helped plan the surprise event. She said that Zimmerman has influenced thousands upon thousands with her love of the arts.
“In our 11 county service area, more than 161,000 children have been to a show at Motlow College in the past 30 years. For many, these plays will be the only one they will ever see,” said Brown. “During her tenure here, her children’s drama class changed lives.”
“The stage presentation, the lighting and all the stuff that goes into that … we talk about that,” he said. “We’re lucky to get to see a live performance this close to home. To be in a rural area, to be able to take 80 kids to a play like that … we would have to go to Huntsville (otherwise). There’s a lot of kids that wouldn’t get to see a play.”
Zimmerman says that although her time as children’s director has ended, her time at Motlow has not. She plans to continue teaching in the classroom.
For her final bow as children’s director, she says she couldn’t have done it without the countless number of people who have made her 30 years of directing a success.
“I could never give credit to all those who have helped me make these plays come to life for the children in the surrounding communities,” Zimmerman said.
By KALI BOLLE, The Tullahoma News Lifestyles Editor