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Role not a huge departure from real life for LOJH teacher

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER  - In center is Joe Theissen as Mr. Hornsby the music teacher, along with other cast members.

If Joe Theissen looks at ease as the high school band director in the Broadway Rose production of “Band Geeks,” part of the reason might be that it is not a huge departure from his day job as the Lake Oswego Junior High School music and drama teacher.

Now in his 11th year of teaching, Theissen spent eight years at LOJH, and then transferred to Lakeridge High School for two years before returning to the junior high last fall.

“There are wonderful, wonderful things about teaching at both levels,” he said. “The personal relationships at the high school were wonderful, and I could do more complex projects. It was a great opportunity to step into a new role — there were major successes and healthy challenges. However, I love the middle school level, and I missed it a lot. “When I left LOJH, there were only seventh- and eighth-graders, but during the second year I was gone, they added sixth grade. Over half my teaching load is now sixth-graders.”

Play rehearsals are not limited to Broadway Rose for Theissen, who is currently directing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” that will be performed in March at LOJH.

For his acting job in “Band Geeks,” there is an element of familiarity for Theissen as he was cast opposite Amy Jo Halliday, who plays the school principal and was Anna the governess to his King in the Broadway Rose production of “The King and I” in the summer of 2010.

“We had not met before ‘The King and I,’” Theissen said. “But ever since, we have sort of led parallel lives. We’re close to the same age, and we have done other shows together. This is the kind of theater I want to do and to work with people I know and love who are just as passionate about theater as I am.”

Halliday said of Theissen, “It’s great to work with Joe again. We’ve done ‘Cats,’ ‘The King and I’ and ‘Legally Blonde.’ Most of my scenes in this play are with Joe — he’s fabulous.

“I think so highly of Joe. I admire all of his work, and he is such a good friend. When we see each other on stage, we can’t help but smile. I would do every show with him if I could.”

Theissen, who performs in two to five shows a year and did three in 2013, added, “It is wonderful to be able to pick the projects you want to do.”

He admitted that he is no longer a “young” actor, noting that in “Band Geeks,” except for Halliday, the other cast members are mostly in their early 20s. “I’m the oldest in the cast at 38,” he said. “I was in Broadway Rose’s production of ‘Cats’ with Amy Jo, and I looked around and realized I was one of the three or four oldest actors. ‘Cats’ was a young cast and so energetic and passionate.

“My favorite part of being in the theater is the diversity. I don’t play truly leading man roles — I do more character roles. It becomes total absorption to take on a role and add the costumes and props and hair — each layer reveals something new about a character.”

Another highlight of “Band Geeks” for Theissen is that in the show he is singing as himself and not as a different character with an accent or other affectation. “I only have one song to sing, and it is about teaching, which is perfect for me,” he said.

However, Theissen is a classically trained singer and considers himself a singer first and an actor second.

“I talk to people in town who consider me an actor first — and that is a huge compliment,” he said. “I am more confident on the stage than doing anything else. It’s wiring. I couldn’t sit in a cubicle all day, and I can’t sell anything.”

Theissen also has directed outside of school, including three shows with Lakewood Theatre Company over the past four years.

He currently does not have another show lined up after “Band Geeks” but predicted, “Spring at school will be very busy, and I usually do a summer show.”

Theissen was born and raised in Portland, took piano lessons and was active in the Wilson High School drama program before he graduated and went to Linfield College on a vocal scholarship, earning a degree in music theory.

He went on to get his teaching credentials at Concordia University while performing in various shows around Portland.

“I had put in an application to teach at Beaumont Middle School, and during the interview, the principal told me that a friend of hers had just gotten the job of principal at Lake Oswego Junior High, where they needed a drama teacher,” Theissen recalled.

“I drove directly from one interview to the other, and when I got home, I had a message from the Lake Oswego superintendent, and I was hired by the end of the day.”

Over the years, Theissen, who has an 11-year-old son, built up the school’s drama program, producing a no-cut musical in the winter and a smaller play in the spring.

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