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Returning To A Familiar Stage

North Brunswick High School’s new drama teacher is no stranger to the school’s stage. Chase Coston has returned to his alma mater with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in Musical Theatre and another in K-12 Theatre Arts Education, and an NC teaching license. Just eight weeks after starting in his new position, Coston brought a successful production of Disney’s “Frozen Jr” to stage last month.

“I came in and adopted the show,” Coston explained, “and it was a whirlwind, to put it lightly. I choreographed and blocked the show in eight weeks. And on top of that, I was getting costumes, props, sets, publicity, coordinating the performing space.”

Coston credited the school community’s investment in the show. “Luckily, I had some very talented students who were helping me with backstage stuff, a great cast, and also lots of support from the school,” he said. “All three of our art teachers painted my set for me, my dad and brother built the set, I had three different teachers and a student who were helping sew the costumes and things. One of the history teachers made my Elsa gown from scratch… she also made the Olaf costume."

“That was the first show I directed on my own,” Coston said. “When I was finishing up student-teaching at my clinical school, I music directed, choreographed, lighting designed, puppet designed for ‘Aladdin Jr’. And that was a really lucky coincidence for me because working on that Disney show prepared me a lot for ‘Frozen’.”

Coston said his goal is to give back to the high school’s performing arts program by pushing it toward greater success. The four performances of “Frozen Jr” raised $6,000, making it the most financially successful show in NBHS history, Coston said. He hopes the school’s stage will get an upgraded lighting system for future shows. “This isn’t Raleigh, and this isn’t Charlotte. This is a public school, so we aren't super crazy funded,” he said.

During his interview for the drama teacher position, Coston said the school’s principal warned him of the challenge of returning to one’s alma mater. “He was like ‘so, when I graduated from college, I also came back to the school I started at and it was very difficult for me.’ And I remember telling him in my interview, I said ‘I wish that it wasn’t difficult for you because I don’t think it’s gonna be difficult for me.’”

He used an analogy for the situation, saying “In Leland, in Brunswick County, it’s very easy to be the big fish in the small pond. So I know that with the education that I have and the degrees that I hold, I have a valuable asset. I know that I have things to offer. It’s not just coming back. I’m coming back with more. I didn’t leave and do nothing,” he said.

Coston said his theatre education began at the age of 10 with an ensemble role in Brunswick Little Theatre’s “The Wizard of Oz,” portraying a Munchkin, a Flying Monkey and an Emerald City Citizen on the main stage of Odell Williamson Auditorium. Growing up, he also participated with Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Thalian Association Children's Theatre, and Arts for All, and at North Brunswick High School as a student.

“This program has been mine since I was a kid there. There only had been five musicals ever performed in the history of North Brunswick High School. The school has been open since the ‘60s,” he said. “Of the five that have been performed, I was in two of them, and I directed one of them.”

Coston said he knows he has touched some audience members through his performances. “One show that I did was called ‘Dorothy Meets Alice’, a mashup of 'Alice in Wonderland' and ‘Wizard of Oz’ and I played the Mad Hatter,” he said. “As the Mad Hatter, I had this insane laugh that I would do all the time. A grandmother in the audience told her granddaughter, who was in the cast with me, that whenever she felt like she couldn’t go on, she would think about my laugh in that show and it would help her. And I wound up on a mug on her shelf of grandchildren.”

For Coston, it was a reward that fulfilled his purpose and passion for the performing arts. “This is something that can change lives. Theatre is not isolated, it is something that affects people.”

Coston said over the years, he found family among his fellow actors, including his best friend, Ryan Tewell. The two performed aside each other as Trevor Graydon and Jimmy Smith in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Judas and Jesus in “Godspell,” and Kenickie and Danny in “Grease” before Tewell was killed in a car accident last year. “He was one of my best friends,” Coston said. “It was either ‘Millie’ or ‘Godspell' that I loved remembering us the most.”

Coston and Tewell were members of Brunswick Little Theatre’s Musical Theatre Apprentice program. “That was where I got all of my training,” he said. “We did classes every Saturday where we learned acting, dancing, and vocal technique." Coston credits his dance skills to an MTA instructor. “Beverly Venker… She taught me literally everything I know about dance… jazz, tap, and ballet.”

Coston said he was fortunate to be trained by mentors who were highly qualified in their field. “Theatre teachers that I have had have been the most impactful part of my performing career,” he explained. “It started with Amanda Penegar at Leland Middle School and then I had two brilliant teachers at North Brunswick, the first being Martha O’Neil and then Cat Thomas. They were just essential to who I am today. I would not be where I am without those three women.” He added, “and then alongside them was Debby Skillman at Brunswick Little Theatre. Those four women pretty much shaped my whole world of theatre.”

During Coston’s senior year of high school, he was cast in “Beauty and the Beast” and “Shrek,” but Coston said “Addam’s Family” was his favorite performance-wise, when he was Gomez. He said he wore multiple hats during that show, not only acting but also helping out behind the scenes.

Coston’s experiences in the performing arts weren’t always a breeze, he admitted. As a college student at East Carolina University, Chase faced moments of doubt and stress from advanced academics. Despite the difficulties, he said quitting musical theatre has never crossed his mind.

“I actually sat down and recorded myself. I talked about my life as just a performance major, what would my future be? Came back to the same thing and talked about my life if I was a teacher. And when I played the videos back, when I talked about being a teacher, there wasn’t a time when I wasn’t smiling. But there were definitely times in the performance video where I could tell that I was stressed,” Coston said. “While I knew that I wanted to perform, I learned really quickly that teaching was also my passion.”

Coston reached a milestone in college. “Patch Clark…She gave me my first lead. I was Jesse Owens in ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ the musical. And so working with her, and seeing what a theatre educator is supposed to do to people who want to perform, I wanted to make people feel the way she makes me feel.” Coston recalled the role being the most challenging in acting. From then on, he learned what it took to act and the self-doubt diminished.

“When I perform a monologue for my students as an example, or they hear me sing for the first time, it’s so humbling to see them light up,” Coston said. Coston wants to be a positive role model for students and to show them what they can be. “There are students, I know for a fact, that only come to school for my class,” he said. Coston’s classroom, much like how he feels on stage, is a safe space for students.

He said he enjoys teaching students new techniques and lessons. “Being able to have them bit by the theatre bug is amazing and I love exposing them to new things, and just throwing them little tidbits like ‘did you know this?’ and they’re like ‘no, really?!’”

Coston advises students who wish to pursue the performing arts as a career to constantly audition. “The number one thing you can do is just perform,” he said. “So audition for everything you can. The Musical Theatre Apprentices program at Brunswick Little Theatre is amazing for high schoolers, and you can do summer intensives. One of my voice teachers from ECU actually just this year is starting a summer intensive at ECU.” Coston highly recommended students take theatre courses in high school while the education is free.

“If you want it, go and take everything in high school,” he said, “If you have the ability, pay for small things first, like dance lessons or voice lessons, then move on to bigger things like summer intensives.” Coston also encouraged the use of social media, like Tik Tok, as a resource to watch and listen to theatre professionals who break down the performing arts.

“As a performer, the thing that is most rewarding is when the curtain opens for your first audience,” Coston said. “As a teacher, it’s very similar, but the rewarding thing for me now, as a teacher, is when the curtain closes on closing night and seeing my students have the revelation that ‘oh my God, I just did that,’ and I love being the person who holds their hand along the way.”


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