Q&A | New Theater Design teacher takes the stage

Mr. William Potter discusses working in China, his passion for technical theater design, and overcoming the challenges of teaching during a pandemic.



STAGE DESIGN COACH Mr. William Potter enjoys teaching students how to express themselves artistically through design.

1. What made you decide to teach at Van Nuys High School?

The choice to teach at Van Nuys High School was very simple for me to make. I had heard that the theater design teacher was retiring and that they were looking for someone to fill the position and I took the opportunity to put my hat into the ring to teach at Van Nuys. Fortunately, they chose me.

2. Have you taught anywhere other than VNHS?

I started teaching when I was living in Shanghai, China. I lived and worked there for about five years while I was earning my master’s degree in Intercultural Communication Studies from the Shanghai Theater Academy. I was a drama teacher to children ages 7 to 17. I also taught workshops to adults and found real joy in teaching. After moving back to California, I feel that same joy teaching technical theater design.

3. What subject have you been teaching at Van Nuys High School, and what brought you to choose to teach this subject?

I have worked as a technical theater designer for many years professionally. So, transitioning into teaching technical theater design was a simple choice to make. The decision in teaching came alongside the opportunity to take over as the technical theater design teacher at Van Nuys High School. I don’t think I ever saw myself teaching this subject while I was working professionally, but I thoroughly enjoy teaching this subject because it enables me to talk about something that I’m very passionate about and impart at least a portion of that enthusiasm to my students.

4. What inspired you to become a teacher?

Personally, I think that becoming a teacher is a positive step to the development of your own professional career. Enabling me to test my knowledge and expertise in a way that is fun, engaging, and challenging to my students. I also relish the opportunity to engage in interesting discourse with my students regarding something that I have a great passion for.

5. What are your thoughts on beginning teaching during a pandemic?

Honestly, it has been difficult for my classes because of the nature of my subject. A lot of the work that my students would be doing is building and designing the technical elements of the drama productions at Van Nuys High school. However, we don’t have the opportunity to do that as we are not in the workshop with access to the tools and materials. So, the solution to this issue that I have found is by enabling the students to develop their imaginative and creative skills to improve their conceptualization and theoretical knowledge. I’ve done this with projects in which the students utilize their imagination and creativity to design for the different aspects of a drama production.

6. What is the most important thing you want students to take away from your class?

I want my students to take away a sense of ownership of their work. Skills are developed over time through dedicated practice. The goal that I set out for my class is to simply provide opportunities for the students to express themselves artistically through design. You get good at what you practice. This is a mantra that I repeat in my classes. So, you might as well be practicing the good stuff.