Siler City, NC – Theater classes return to Jordan-Matthews High School this fall for the first time in more than four decades, with stage professional Sawyer Shafer being appointed as the school’s new theater arts teacher.
As currently structured, the new faculty position will be shared with Chatham Central High School, with Shafer teaching both semesters in Siler City and Bear Creek.
His arrival as teacher and artistic director is a major milestone in JM theater, a program revived by JMArts, the Jordan-Matthews Arts Foundation, more than a decade ago — initially with shows written in-house to raise enough money and develop enough student talent to produce Broadway musicals. From the beginning, nearly all school theatrical productions, acting instruction and trips to experience regional and touring shows have been funded almost entirely by JMArts through private donations and grants.
Shafer, a theater professional living in Greensboro, became interested in the new teaching position after being hired by JMArts to direct the school’s spring production of “Oklahoma!” Though he spent two years as director and producer of Finneytown High School’s musical theater program in Cincinnati, Shafer said he hadn’t really considered moving into full-time teaching until his experience here.
“I am beyond excited to finally be joining the teaching staff in a full-time capacity,” he said. “From day one, it was clear to me that the students here at JM are some of the most enthusiastic and talented kids that I have ever met, and I cannot think of a student-body more deserving of the opportunity to engage with the theatre arts on a daily basis.”
Shafer has a broad and distinguished history in professional theater and theater education.
In addition to his work at Finneytown High School in Cincinnati, he has served in various roles at Creative Greensboro, Virginia Repertory Theatre and in Ohio for Mechanicsburg High School, Marietta College and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. He currently oversees the performance space and facility for Creative Greensboro.
An Ohio native, Shafer received his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies magna cum laude in 2018 from Wright State University.
JMArts President Rose Pate said she couldn’t be happier with the appointment. Though Shafer has directed just one show at JM, students loved working with him and their collaboration was rewarded this spring when the cast received a nomination for Best Ensemble in the Triangle Rising Stars regional musical theater awards. The Triangle Rising Stars is an annual competition for high schools in North Carolina’s Triangle and Triad regions, where top individual actors selected at the Durham Performing Arts Center advance to The Jimmy Awards, a national competition on Broadway.
“After watching his competent and compassionate work with our student actors during “Oklahoma!” rehearsals, I couldn’t be happier that Mr. Shafer decided to join the JM family,” Pate said. “I look forward to watching him collaborate with our other arts teachers to grow our theater program.”
After the successful spring production of “Oklahoma!,” Shafer agreed to direct JM’s upcoming production of “Shrek The Musical,” so he had already been thinking about where to take JM theater over the coming months. But now, he’ll have even more to keep himself busy as the new school year approaches.
“I have spent a lot of my downtime this summer brainstorming new and innovative ways to tailor the theater curriculum to this community, and I hope the students are as responsive to these new ideas as they were to the vision we had for ‘Oklahoma!’ last spring,” he said. “I never thought I would be this excited to go back to high school again, but the welcome I received in Siler City has me counting down the days until the school year starts.”
JMArts is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, charitable organization providing what JM students need to succeed in dance, music, theater and visual arts. All money raised through individual donations, admission fees, fundraising events and grants goes directly to providing performance showcases, educational opportunities, instruments and supplies for students.
The nonprofit is best known for JMArts Scholars. Scholarships are awarded each year allowing returning JM students to pursue intensive study over the summer, usually at weeklong, residential workshops offered on university campuses. Other major projects include the school’s annual musical, a variety of public events and the New York Arts Adventure, where eight students travel to New York City for five days over spring break to experience the best in the arts and learn directly from several world-renowned professionals.
More information about JMArts, including a schedule of all upcoming arts events and information on membership, is available online at JMArts.org.