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Michael Sokolove on Levittown, Pa.’s Drama High


Many high school teachers deal with drama – teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, and getting a diploma into their students’ hands in four years. Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania suffers from the many economic and cultural problems a former steel down endures. Growing up in the fading promise of a 1950s suburban development experiment, the Philadelphia suburban teenagers aren’t leaving high school with certainty of employment or going to the nation’s top schools. But if those students took classes with legendary, former drama teacher, Lou Volpe, they might have had the opportunity to embrace these very disrupting issues. Known for taking on plays with challenging, adult themes, Truman became the first high school in the country to stage Rent, a musical that deals with AIDS, homophobia and addiction. Volpe’s program became so influential other high schools have taken programming cues from Truman. Many of his students throughout his four-decade tenure have grown into Emmy-winning producers, newscasters, and community-theater activists. New York Times Magazine writer and Levittown native, MICHAEL SOKOLOVE, returns to Radio Times to discuss his new book, “Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater.” And we’ll hear from the subject of the book, LOU VOLPE, who retired from Harry S. Truman High this spring.

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