I’m not quite sure how to begin to describe my relationship with Mr. C. I guess I should call him Terrence, considering I am now out of high school, but there is something about that abbreviated name that makes me feel at ease—at home. That is what his theatre program was for me all throughout high school—a second home. I went to an affluent school on the Upper West Side of New York City, where of my peers were often more concerned about their Prada handbags than what the school had to offer. In freshman year, just as I was beginning to fall into that shallow, materialistic scene, a friend encouraged me to audition for the school play, “Pippin”. Having done theatre in middle school, I thought I would give it a shot. Turns out, it was the best thing I could have done that year. Mr. Christgau was the first teacher to both break me down and build me up at the same time. When I would apologize incessantly if I felt my acting was inadequate or sing a wrong note, Mr. Christgau would look me straight in the eye and tell me that an apology was unprofessional and unnecessary. And never did he tell me how to perform a certain piece but instead to focus my attention in putting myself inside that character’s shoes. Nevertheless, whenever I performed for him, he would look at me with satisfaction in his eyes—this approval that made the theatre worthwhile. The comfort I felt with Mr. Christgau served me well all throughout high school; several times a week, I would walk into his office to ask him a question about a social dilemma I was having or to show him a film I was making, and I always left feeling enriched and inspired. And I was not the only student who experienced this. Many times, there were two, four, or eight students in his office, laughing and working with him-- because they all felt they way I did about him. Although Mr. Christgau is a skilled teacher and director, his passions ride so deep that he wrote and directed his own play, “The Way”, based on the teachings of the Dao. He was able to make such a sophisticated concept understandable to his students, so much so that they decided to perform it. I was intrigued by his creative abilities, and I asked Mr. Christgau if I could make a documentary on the creation of his play, and he entrusted me to do so. I’ve been told my whole life that the theatre is a tough business. You have to work hard, work late, and love what you do. But when you have a mentor as sincere and devoted as Terrence Christgau, the theatre suddenly becomes a little less scary and a lot more like home.
Sophia Conger, Dwight grad; Ithaca College
As parents, we strive to place our children in a school environment which nurtures their growth and development in a warm and safe manner, allowing them to flourish and achieve their academic potential. But how do you value that special teacher, who does more than what is simply “required”? How do you recognize that exceptional educator who cultivates creativity and imagination, a sense of self-awareness and confidence that allows each student to thrive as they work to their full potential? ... Terry runs a diverse program that is uncommonly professional for the high school level and is characterized by the challenging and thought provoking production choices which rival those at the University and off-Broadway level. Through this work, Terry has spent over 18 years impressing upon young adults an appreciation of theater both for enjoyment but also as a means of expression and self-awareness. Terry is a master at drawing from his students unique hidden talents and suppressed emotions that are not frequently displayed by self-conscious teenagers. Terry’s gift as a teacher is the ability to create a sense of sanctuary in the theater environment where his students discover their unique abilities in a non-threatening setting and where they can learn far more about themselves through their actions and from their interactions with peers than is the stated goal behind traditional classroom teaching. For our son Mason, who has always been quiet and reserved, working with Terry for the past 5 years has taught him the gift of expression through acting. He has learned the joy of theater and the gratification that can come from being on stage. Terry also teaches many important lessons about life, Mason has learned difficult lessons about understanding the decisions of others when they are different from your own, rejection when you are not chosen to play roles you thought you were created for, and the overwhelming benefits of hard work and discipline in everything you commit yourself to. Terry teaches these lessons with great compassion and caring for each of his students as individuals. To that end, Terry’s students leave his tutelage remarkably well prepared for the next steps in their lives. Terry’s theater group is a community within itself, filled with dedicated hard-working students that strive for perfection. Terry is the consummate champion of their unique strengths and he builds the confidence of his students by providing opportunities for individual growth through risk taking and learning both from failures and successes alike.
Janet Resele-Tiden, Parent of Mason DWight Grad and NYU Actor
Terrence Christgau regularly gives young minds the gift of his mentorship and shares his personal dedication to theatre. As one of his formers students, and current mentee, I can speak first hand to his ability to fiercely inspire, encourage, and direct those in his classroom. The space that Terrence Christgau he carves for his class is a sanctuary where he fights for, and with, his students to push them beyond academic, creative, and personal boundaries. He consistently achieves this by nurturing his students' talent and skills, and nursing their insecurities and fears to create a small community of future prestigious conservatory students. He does this all while twice a year stimulating and organizing his class of sometimes unpredictable, emotional, erratic, teenagers into a team of thespians fit for the stage. Terrence Christgau sees a hungry passion in his students that can be molded into creative edges. Six years ago I first experienced this when he asked his upperclassmen for ideas for the upcoming 2009 main stage musical and revealed that he wanted students to start producing material. After a few conversations he encouraged me to write a script and have it work-shopped by other students - a terrifying and humbling experience but one I was glad to have had before the beginning of my theatre degree. Together we then drafted a pitch to market our show, and a budget plan to present to our Dean, who approached the board of trustees to aid us in achieving our monetary goal. This was my first introduction the pre-production process of the entertainment industry and one that served me well as a producer-director, and today as a working actress in New York City. I am only one of a large number of students that Terrence Christgau has guided and mentored carefully in this way during his tenure as The Dwight School's Director of Upper School Theatre. The bond and genuine interest that he takes in students and the community that he builds within his classroom survives past graduation dates, and helps to shape budding careers inside and outside of the arts. Terrence Christgau does not simply teach the fundamentals of theatre in his classes, he teaches students to love the environment of theatre, which goes beyond the adrenaline rush of performance. This extends even to the pain, struggle, and vulnerability demanded of a group of young adults attempting to achieve their collective, and individual artistic visions. The most special gift he gives his students is to help them "serve the project, and not themselves," and revel in gritty, harsh, addictive beauty of each aspect of theatre: history, performance, and production.
Nicole Rainteau, Dwight Grad, McGill Theater Conservatory Grad and working Actress, NYC
I have the distinct pleasure of writing you to praise an extraordinary teacher who has made a real difference in my daughter’s young life, helping her grow and blossom as a both a student and as a young lady..... And I will now provide one example that quite frankly brings tears to my eyes, as a proud father, who witnessed his daughter – like a deer caught in the headlights – freeze up with a terrible case of stage fright at a recent School performance, and run off the stage a defeated girl. Rather than leave it at that, at the close of the Production – and with the additional support of other Dwight instructors who reached out to Alice back-stage -- Mr. Christgau encouraged Alice to give it “another shot” and get right back up on stage to finish her scene, which she did. His empathy and support was remarkable and, as a result, Alice went home that night having learned a valuable life lesson about getting back on that horse, no matter how painful it felt falling off. In front of the entire audience, Mr. Christgau singled out Alice for praise, and the entire audience shared to support her courage. Lesser teachers would seek to run from such an uncomfortable moment – believing it an embarrassment and a poor reflection their teaching abilities – but not Mr. Christgau. He embraced Alice’s set-back as a real teaching opportunity. He made sure that as long as he was involved, all his students succeeded. It was a breath-taking profile in courage – for both teacher and student – and a great tribute to the caliber of teachers Dwight is able to attract. Mr. Christgau, from the very beginning, identified Alice’s reticence and has provided steadfast nurturing and support throughout her involvement in his Program. I recognize that parents are more apt to freely share criticisms rather than compliments, so I wanted to take this opportunity – while still fresh in my mind – to balance the scales a bit. Terry Christgau is an inspiring (and inspired) teacher – and Kathy and I are grateful that Alice has had an opportunity to benefit from his kind nature and his quite real teaching talents.
Many thanks for directing Alice toward the Dwight Drama Program – and to Mr. Christgau, specifically.
Jim Rosenthal and Kathy Bishop
......I also want to acknowledge Terry Christgau. His masterful production/theater skills are essential to this event. We want the flow of Graduation to appear seamless and I would not be able do that without Terry's skills and his ability to command the attention of 70 some odd insanely whipped up seniors. :).
Director of Operations