DECATUR — The sentence is simple, yet profound. “Behind every great performance is inspiration, and behind inspiration is a great teacher.”
Marie Jagger-Taylor, cultural arts manager for the Decatur Park District, is one of those teachers.
She was among 24 honorable mentions for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award, presented by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University, during this year's Tony ceremonies. Candidates were theater directors, artistic directors, drama teachers and theater founders.
“This honor recognizes a K-12 theater educator in the U.S. who has demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession,” according to the Tony Awards.
Jagger-Taylor’s students wanted others to know how influential she is to them and the theater community. So they submitted her name for consideration of the award.
Jagger-Taylor was surprised by the nomination because of the importance of the award. “We’re a little park district in Decatur, Illinois,” she said. “Most of the people that win have these amazing programs and resources that we are limited to have.”
She may not have the funding, space, staff or other resources, but Jagger-Taylor uses what she has available to her.
“What I have is the kids,” she said. “The kids’ passion and talents. There is no greater resource than that. That is something money can’t buy.”
Becca Allgeier, 15, and her twin sister Amanda submitted the application, as well as a video and three letters of recommendation, to the awards committee. They enlisted the help of Chloe Clark, 18, who wrote one of the reference letters.
Clark noted Jagger-Taylor’s work and her influence on the students throughout the years. “She has given me and many other children the opportunity to show our love for the arts to the community and keep the arts alive,” Clark’s letter stated.
Becca thought of her teacher for the award when she found the request for nominations online. “I was thinking nobody else’s name belongs on this award more than Miss Marie,” she said.
“Everyone that we told about the award said we had to do this,” Amanda said.
The three young ladies struggled to get the information and video in on time, but were determined to get the job done.
“The people would talk for so long, so the videos were too long,” Clark said. “And the videos wouldn’t send.”
Other recommendations for Jagger-Taylor’s nomination were written by a parent/volunteer and a fellow educator with the Little Theatre-On the Square in Sullivan. Impatient to wait on an official award, Clark and the Allgeier twins made a replica of the Excellence in Theatre Education award and presented it to their teacher during a recent park board meeting.
“I’ve always wanted a Tony,” Jagger-Taylor said. “And in the words of Sally Fields, all I can say is, ‘They like me’.”
Jagger-Taylor has been a teacher of theater and dance at various levels and institutes, including the park district, Millikin University and Little Theatre. Before she moved to Illinois nearly 30 years ago, she performed as a professional actress, dancer, choreographer and director on national stages, including Broadway. She also has appeared in several television commercials.
The Decatur Park District understands the importance of having such an experienced and driven member on their team.
“Programs like these are not in all communities. We are fortunate to have it here,” said park board President Chris Harrison. “But we are more fortunate to have somebody that is so devoted to it. It shows through the students.”
Jagger-Taylor said she is honored to be listed with all the other nominees and the winner, Melody Herzfeld, drama teacher from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, the site of the February shooting that left 17 dead. The Tony awards were June 10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Jagger-Taylor is equally honored to be thought of by her students.
“For them taking the time, at their young age, to nominate me and to think so highly of me, means more than anything,” she said. “I continue to find new ways to grow through them, to help nurture and grow myself.”