Two of Belle Plaine’s theater juggernauts earned the honor of their peers over the weekend.
Tony Hartmann received the Outstanding Educator of the Year Award and Christopher Moore was the Distinguished Service Award. Both awards were presented by the Minnesota Educators of Theater Association (META). The joint awards marked the first time in META history that two directors from the same school have won the awards in the same year. The pair traveled to St. Cloud last Saturday, Sept. 14, to be honored.
Moore began directing full-length and one-act performances at Arlington-Green Isle High School in 1972 until 1991, taking five shows to state in the process. In 1991, Moore began directing at Belle Plaine High School and did so through 2001, notching four starred performances at the state one-act festival during that stint.
Moore retired from teaching in 2004, but he wasn’t finished just yet.
According to Moore, Hartmann “lured” him back into directing in 2017, and the pair have collected back-to-back starred performances at the state one-act festival since.
“I’m....so very thankful that Tony coaxed me out of retirement,” Moore wrote to the Herald. “It’s been a fine ride these last few years, and I’m proud we can share the moment.”
Moore stated that he began his love affair with theater in high school, where he began playing in the pit orchestra. During his senior year, he got a minor part in his high school’s fall play; he played a spear carrier. Moore went on to get involved with college and grad school theater programs before starting his job at Arlington-Green Isle High School.
META’s Distinguished Service Award criteria stipulates that nominees should have a “minimum of 25 years in the field or be retired from a career spent in theater education in an Elementary, Middle School or Secondary Theater Program, a Collegiate Theater Department, and/or a Theater Company Education Department,” according to the META website.
Moore attributes his longevity to his wife LaVonne’s ability to “safeguard” his sanity.
“Lying awake at night [I would wonder] who to cast, how to solve a challenging blocking problem, where we’re gonna find just the right feather duster for act two,” Moore wrote. “Throughout it all, my wife LaVonne safeguarded my sanity, directed with me, even found the perfect feather duster. She’s the reason I’ve made it this far, this long.”
Moore cited a number of performances as his favorites and that his recent award is just one source of happiness when considering his career.
“The real reward, of course, is a lifetime of memories, hearing from former students, knowing I’ve had an impact on their lives, their profession, even through their children,” Moore wrote.
Hartmann began directing Belle Plaine’s one-act plays in 2004. Since then, Hartmann has co-directed alongside Don Fraser, Peter Jacobson, Carol Hannon-Orr, and most recently and presently Moore. In that time, Hartmann and his co-directors have sent 10 one-act performances to state.
“Being part of a play production is exhausting work, but through all the highs and lows it can be an unbelievable and rewarding experience,” Hartmann wrote to the Herald. “The memories that I will take with me when I retire will stick with me forever.”
Hartmann began his career in theater in Belle Plaine of all places, back in 1984, when he was in eighth grade. He continued performed for Belle Plaine High School until he graduated in 1988.
While Hartmann was in 10th grade, his one-act ensemble, which was directed by Hannon-Orr, was competing at the regional one-act competition to qualify for the state festival. That year, Belle Plaine was beat out by just one ensemble, Arlington-Green Isle, directed by Moore.
Hartmann remained active in theater while enrolled at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and performed in “Oklahoma” and “Cabaret.”
In 1998, Hartmann began teaching in Belle Plaine and five years later became the high school’s one-act play director and has stayed in that role since 2004.
Hartmann is quick to attribute his successes as a director to those who surround him.
“This award is really about the kids we have worked with over the years,” Hartmann wrote. “I look at this award as a collaborative effort of so many people in our school and community both here and afar.”
Hartmann specifically listed Ali Burmeister, Alli Jacobson, Dave Edberg, Jeff Heine, Scott Renne, Marty and Karen Preusser, and many others, including parents, volunteers and school administrators for deserving credit.
Hartmann added that he wished all the other people involved could be recognized, in addition to himself and Moore getting the honors.
The pair plans to direct the one-act play again this year after earning a starred performance at the state festival for their production of “Failure: A Love Story” last year.
When asked which piece the pair is planning to bring to life this year, Moore deferred to Hartmann, who stated, “It’s a secret.”