Mark Mendelson Brightens the Theater Program

Originally published on The Pillar, November 2012

by Julia Cohen ’13

Curly hair, bright smile, glasses slightly askew—Mark Mendelson is not your run of the mill teacher. However, this may result from the fact that Mark Mendelson does not teach a run of the mill class. His classroom has no chairs, desks, or whiteboards, and he does not give praise in the form of grades, but rather in copious amounts of candy. While in any other class climbing on objects may be discouraged, Mark encourages it—in fact, you cannot be in his class without climbing around 10 feet in the air. Sound too good to be true? Well, if you don’t believe me, take the long trek up to the theatre during PA and witness the great Mark Mendelson in action, teaching his new Technical Theatre class.

The Technical Theatre class is a new addition to the PA selection and Mark’s first opportunity to join the Athenian faculty. However, Mark is not new to Athenian; he has been helping with productions for several years as a theater tech. I first encountered him sophomore year, during my debut in the technical theatre world. At first I did not know what to make of him: pencil tucked behind his ear, tongue out, surveying the scene in front of him. I was told tech rehearsal would take around 2 hours; however, it was well past six o’clock when Mark finally deemed it acceptable to move on, and as a result the first word that flew to my mind whenever I saw Mark for the rest of the day was “perfectionist.”

However, as the week went on I began to associate another word with Mark: brilliant. I could not help but admire him. Where I saw a scene of a play, Mark saw an opportunity. He transformed the bland CFTA into a work of art. I could not believe the ideas he came up with, nor could I believe the energy and enthusiasm he put into making these ideas a reality. One minute he would be sitting in the front row conferring with Peter, and the next he’d be in the booth, a slightly mad look on his face, glasses nearly falling off, madly tapping away into the light board. Mark is one of the most creative people I have ever met in my life.

Now, having known Mark for three years and worked on countless events with him, I can elaborate much past the “perfectionist” and “brilliant artist” I first saw as a sophomore. Now speaking about Mark, I cannot help but mention his innate silliness. Often when I have been working with him I have heard a show tune coming from a corner in the theatre, only to find out that it was Mark. He often sings directions to me, and his favorite word, “jank,” is not one that naturally occurs in the English language. Mark likes to teach through jokes, making the work about having fun rather than about only trying to meet a goal. He is also a hand talker, and by this I mean he wildly moves his hands while speaking, illustrating his point in thin air, sometimes flinging the ever present pen in his hand across the theatre. Mark is one of the silliest teachers I have ever had.

However, more than anything, the defining feature of Mark as a teacher is that he genuinely loves what he does. I have never met a teacher who genuinely enjoys teaching as much as he does or one who so wholeheartedly loves the subject matter of his lessons. Mark does not just teach how to hang lights, run sound, or even make a set, he teaches his students how to love what they do. This is in fact the greatest lesson Mark has taught me, and what makes him one of the greatest teachers I have ever had.