Teach­ing 101

10-episode drama se­ries Rise is more than just about sav­ing a high-school mu­sic pro­gram, it’s about giv­ing hope to kids and let­ting them aim for the clouds.

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By all means, en­joy the cute mu­si­cal num­bers and danc­ing on stage in Rise (2017, find it on stream­ing ser­vice Show­max’s cat­a­logue). That is what the show is about – per­for­mance. But there’s a far deeper-rooted les­son be­ing taught by Stan­ton High’s drama and English teacher Lou Maz­zuchelli (Josh Rad­nor, Ted in com­edy se­ries How I Met Your Mother, 2004-2015). He wants to in­spire his stu­dents to dream big and achieve those goals with a lit­tle help from his se­cret weapon: the school’s theatre and stage per­for­mance de­part­ment. That’s not the only story of in­spi­ra­tion in this show though.

Rise is based on 2013 best-sell­ing novel Drama High by Michael Sokolove. It’s a bi­o­graph­i­cal story about drama teacher Lou Volpe, who spent over 40 years teach­ing English and drama at a small-town Penn­syl­va­nia high school and us­ing stage plays, Lou got his stu­dents to rise up, be counted and make the most of their God-given tal­ents. “We took Drama High as an in­spi­ra­tion and then I re­ally felt like I needed to make it kind of my own story,” ex­plains Rise cre­ator Ja­son Ka­tims. There’s more drama than just with Lou try­ing to get the kids into his stage pro­duc­tion. He’s met with a brick wall from the other teach­ers, es­pe­cially Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez, Phoebe in drama se­ries Pure, 2017). She was the as­sis­tant theatre di­rec­tor who lost the di­rec­tor’s job to Lou. “When you get an email from Ja­son (who’s done Fri­day Night Lights, 2006-2011) and Jef­frey Seller (who pro­duced stage play Hamil­ton) and they’re pro­duc­ing a TV show about a drama teacher at a pub­lic high school, you go, ‘Yeah, I’d prob­a­bly wanna do that,” says Josh jok­ingly. “It was a no-brainer. Then you read this book and you re­alise that it’s not fic­tion, this re­ally hap­pened and that adds to this show and what it brings to the plate: per­for­mance within per­for­mance.”


While the show only has 10 episodes, Josh and his co-stars say that there are so many more sto­ries to tell – and be told by view­ers. All they have to do is read the book “be­cause it will open your eyes to things that you maybe took for granted over the years and didn’t re­alise were hold­ing you back,” ex­plains Rosie. Josh adds that read­ing Drama High be­fore film­ing “made me re­alise just how im­por­tant drama and the arts are to our fu­ture as ac­tors. I thought to my­self, ‘If I didn’t have the op­por­tu­ni­ties that I did? I would not be in this ca­reer, I would not have my job and I cer­tainly would not be work­ing on a show like Rise”.


The irony of Rise be­ing can­celled af­ter one sea­son isn’t lost on Josh though, who ex­plains that it’s the same in the real world. “Arts pro­grams have been the first to go at any school when the bud­get gets slashed. My char­ac­ter Lou is try­ing to save his drama class and he is against a town that clearly doesn’t care about theatre. I think that is very telling of the world we find our­selves in in this mod­ern world, where art is al­ways the first to go.”

And he doesn’t want his co-stars to be down­cast af­ter the can­cel­la­tion be­cause it will only make them stronger. “I have been cut from shows. I’ve been dropped from plays. I’ve lost jobs. It’s not the end of the world. It means you need to go find some­thing new. We have this ter­rific cast – I don’t even know where the pro­duc­ers found these kids be­cause the amount of tal­ent on dis­play is in­cred­i­ble. Watch­ing them sing and dance and act and act within the show… it has been a plea­sure to watch and be part of the jour­ney.”


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Lou (right) needs help sav­ing his drama class and he gets it from his ri­val Tracey (left).

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