This profile is my favorite piece I wrote for Journalism 2100 this summer. If I were to be a reporter, I’d love to write profiles about people like Ms. Howard.
Angela Howard, the artistic director for Performing Arts in Children’s Education Youth Theatre Company, has been bringing stories to others since she was a young child.
Howard said her mother told Howard she told stories from the time she was about 3 years old.
“Characters evolved out of my blankets,” she said. “I would tell (my mother) what was going on in the woods, about the trees talking. I was pretty imaginative.”
Howard moved from her hometown of Baltimore, Md., to St. Louis, Mo., in high school. Her theater teacher eased her transition from private to public school in a new state, she said.
“I credit her with everything I’ve done,” Howard said. “She’s been my role model. She was the person who saw something in me and pushed me.”
Howard enrolled at the University of Kansas to study theater, but left after her roommate invited her to stay in Colorado for the summer. She stayed in Denver, Colo., for 10 years before moving to San Diego, Calif., pursuing the performing arts in both places. She met her husband, Tom, while working as a civil servant at a corps school in San Diego.
“She laughed at all of my jokes — she has a very easy laugh,” Tom Howard said.
The couple married about a year later and celebrated their 26th anniversary July 19.
The mother of five children, Angela Howard received her first three in the same week. The couple won custody of Rick and Phil, Tom Howard’s two sons from his previous marriage, and she gave birth to their first son together, Michael, the day Tom Howard’s ship returned from the Persian Gulf War.
“[I prepared with] a lot of prayer,” Angela Howard said.
After Tom Howard retired from the Navy, the family decided to move back to Missouri in 1993 to give the children a chance to know Angela Howard’s father, who was battling lung cancer at his home in Lake of the Ozarks. They decided to move to Columbia because Angela Howard’s brother and sister had graduated from MU. Her father passed away that year, and she had her only daughter, Katie, shortly after.
“We always thought it was her father’s way of saying he was not done yet,” Tom Howard said.
Angela Howard began working for Columbia Entertainment Company in 1993, where she met PACE Youth Theatre Company co-founder Debbie Baldwin. Angela Howard began teaching classes at Baldwin’s theater school before she began directing, and when Katie Howard’s teacher offered Angela Howard studio space, she took it and ran her own studio for a few years. She then worked at TRYPS Children’s Theater for a year and a half before she and Baldwin decided to start PACE Youth Theatre Company, a company involving children in acting, directing and behind-the-scenes work.
“She realizes not every child is comfortable with being out in front of the curtain — she also teaches them how to run lights, do sound, the importance of handling props in a way so the show can run smoothly,” said Bev Pfeffer, a friend and vice president of PACE Youth Theatre Company’s Board of Directors.
In addition to performing classic musicals such as “Fame” and “West Side Story,” PACE Youth Theatre Company also has an Arts in Health series in which performances focus on health-related issues. Some performances have even featured children cast members with disabilities — after seeing a production of “The River” in which actors signed lines while others read their lines aloud, Angela Howard cast a deaf child in a production, which led to additional roles for multiple deaf children. Angela Howard has also cast a student with Down syndrome in a few productions.
“She gave them the opportunity to be on stage and show the world that people with disabilities can be on stage and do these things,” Pfeiffer said. “It has taught our children who are healthy how to react to people with disabilities so they don’t turn away from them by not knowing how to deal with them.”
Angela Howard’s mission for PACE Youth Theatre Company coincides with her mission in teaching public school: to educate.
“For her, it’s about educating artists of the future,” said Megan White, executive director of PACE Youth Theatre Company. “She’s already seen some kids come back and step into roles. Being able to see it come full-circle — she has that vision.”
Former student Mary Russell, who got her start in Angela Howard’s eighth-grade theater class at Heritage Academy, acted at PACE Youth Theatre Company during high school and taught there for the past four years when she was home from Huntington University. Russell said she appreciated how Angela Howard “believed in her and her capabilities 100 percent” in terms of acting and directing.
“In my head, she’s my theater mom,” Russell said. “She’s a really good sounding board and she really believes in the kids all the time, which is perfect for someone in the position she’s in.”
Angela Howard said to motivate the children to do their best, she tells them athletes only get to the Olympics by doing it perfectly every time. She also heeds this advice not only as a teacher and a director, but also as a student.
“I go to school to get A’s,” she said.
She completed her bachelor’s degree in theater from MU in 1998 after her youngest child began preschool and is currently working on getting a teaching certification so she can teach in Columbia Public Schools.
Angela Howard said while strong spirituality enables her to juggle the different areas in her life, her husband is the reason she is who she is today.
“I’m married to someone willing to allow me to be the person I am,” she said. “As Paul Newman said, ‘Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?’ I have steak.”