Teacher Feature: Ms. A keeps her students in the spotlight

Posted April 7, 2014 / Last updated April 23, 2014

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From The Blue Jay, Vol. 86, No. 5, April 2014

By William Fine, Staff Writer

For Mrs. Kate Arthurs-Goldberg, her position as speech teacher and director of the Jesuit Philelectic Society brings together two great loves: teaching and performing arts.

As rehearsals were underway for the current production of “Damn Yankees,” Ms. A, as she is known by her Phils, was able to share an exciting announcement with the performers. The Philelectic Society, Jesuit’s oldest co-curricular group, has been awarded the opportunity to participate in the nationally acclaimed American High School Theatre Festival.

Winning a coveted spot in the prestigious annual festival in the summer of 2015, the Phils will travel to London and then to Edinburgh, Scotland, where the AHSTF participates in the popular Edinburgh Fringe Festival theater program. The Phils will be the only group representing Louisiana in the program, which brings together performers from the top high school drama groups from across the country.

For Mrs. Arthurs-Goldberg, the honor from the American High School Theatre Festival can be considered a well-deserved sign of the quality and commitment that the Philelectic Society has meant to Jesuit.

Between rehearsals for “Damn Yankees,” she chatted with The Blue Jay about her role with the Phils, her own career as an actor, singer and director, and her love of teaching.

For the current production of “DamnYankees,” Mrs. Arthurs-Goldberg noted that the show captures everything that makes a Phils’ musical memorable.

“It has lots of very athletic dancing and singing, a huge cast of great young men and women who all get along really well, Phils alumni in supporting roles and famous campus faces in cameos,” she said. “It’s a great baseball musical comedy based on the legend of Faust. This one has been a blast to prepare.”

In choosing which plays or musicals for the Phils to present, she pays attention to the particular talents she sees in her classes and in previous shows.

“I’m very good at casting, at seeing potential in actors. I don’t pre-cast in general, as you can tell by the casting of a freshman as young Joe in ‘Damn Yankees,’ but I do always have an idea of who may be able to do what. It would be foolish to choose a show we couldn’t cast,” she said. “But a part is always an actor’s to lose. There is always another actor who can play a part, whether you think they may or may not be better than you. Actors must come into an audition prepared to show the director and creative team what they can do with a role and why they should be chosen to play it.”

The Philelectic Society has, quite literally, changed her life, she said, noting that she met her husband, Mr. Ron Goldberg, when he joined the Phils’ staff as technical director leading the set construction crews for the productions of “Kiss Me, Kate” and ….. in 2012. In addition to finding true love, she said especially enjoys working with both her students and colleagues on a daily basis.

“I learn something new every day from them. And of course, being the first female director in the long and illustrious history of the Phils is really cool,” Mrs. Arthurs-Goldberg said. “The Phils will celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2016. And if you google the word ‘Philelectic’ it always brings you here, as the word exists nowhere else in the world. The Phils are very special.”

The teaching profession runs her blood, Mrs. Arthurs-Goldberg said.

“It’s the family business. My late mother taught pre-school at Parkway Presbyterian for 25 years. My father has been at Archbishop Rummel for 49 years and taught night school at both Tulane University and Our Lady of Holy Cross College,” she said. “Dinner table conversation always revolved around interesting stories, lessons that worked or failed, and of course, the antics of students. When we were all at different points of our education, meaning five different schools, between my parents and my two younger sisters, we came in contact with thousands of people daily. My whole life I’ve had two weeks off at Christmas, Mardi Gras break, and the summer off. I don’t know how people work the same job year round.”

Her own interest in theater has been a lifelong passion that she often sees reflected in her students in the Phils. She earned both her first acting and singing roles in high school.

“My first solo was during a high school Christmas concert. I was to share it with another girl. It was a lovely carol in Spanish called ‘A La Nanita Nana.’ The other girl burst into tears on stage and I kept singing, though I sang terribly, as I was terrified. But I can still sing it!” Her first roles as an actress came in a CYO one-act play competition and as the Good Witch of the North in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” when she was a high school sophomore.

While she has appeared in many shows with companies and stages across the new Orleans area, it’s difficult to pick a single favorite.

“Ha! It’s easier to name the plays I hate,” she said laughing. “The original casts that I’ve been a part of would top my list. I’ve had roles written for me in operas in college as well as a huge local hit musical, Treehouse Players’ ‘Rapunzel.’ But being in the original cast of ‘Cinderella Battistella,’ a New Orleans version of the fairy tale that is truly near and dear to my heart, that was my favorite.

“I played the Voo-Doo Queen fairy godmother alongside Becky Allen, Ginger Guma, Shirl Cieutat, Eva Earls, and Robert G. Lee to name a few. It was all written and directed by New Orleans legends Freddy Palmisano, David Cuthbert, Bob Bruce and Ty Tracy. Students won’t know these names, but lots of us older New Orleanians will. It was my first gig at Le Petit Theatre and I had no idea who all these amazing people were and how lucky I was to be a part of that,” she said. “It’s also when my name changed to Kate.”

She notes for her students that some of the most memorable performing moments might not always occur on traditional theaters.

“Any time I can sing with my sisters is a special time. Singing our national anthem in three-part harmony with a flyover and breaking of the sound barrier at the end from Belle Chasse Naval Air Station for the grand opening of Jazzland was definitely fun,” she said. “But the craziest gig I ever had was opening for Irma Thomas by impersonating Ethel Merman while singing ‘There’s No Business Like Coal Business’ for the National Coal Mining Exporter’s Union convention. There were all these waiters running around in headlamps and I got paid $500 for two and a half minutes on stage!”

It’s not the applause that most attracts Mrs. Arthurs-Goldberg to the theater.

“It’s the process. I love finding the show, the talent, producing, and directing it,” she said. “I wish we could sell a ticket that lets you see an audition, midway into rehearsals, and then the final product, so people could see the process.

“Of course, you can if you join our cast and crew with the Phils!”