Heather Freer

Heather
Freer - By Caitlin Thompson 13
Freer - By Caitlin Thompson 3

Heather Freer, the recently hired Drama teacher at Union Mine High School, sits down to discuss the Theater program, her personal journey, and the El Dorado County community.

 

Heather Freer, the Drama teacher at Union Mine High School, started her educational career as an English teacher. “It was actually Poetry Out Loud that got me started in teaching—that dual aspect of performance and English,” Heather explains. “I loved working with the high school students, so that was sort of my entrée into teaching.” As much as Heather enjoyed teaching English, her true, lifelong passion was Drama; the only problem was that she never believed she would have a chance to teach it. “Drama teachers stay forever in their role in this district, and I didn’t want to go outside of the district, because I have three kids who live here,” Heather says. When the Drama position at Union Mine opened up, Heather’s dream became a reality. “Going back into that world was so seamless and easy,” Heather recalls. “It was the most comfortable I’ve felt teaching, because I know it inside and out, and I know how to speak the language. That part has been easy.”

 

Her new position didn’t come without adversity, though. She had inherited a program that was in relative disarray, its former stability battered by a string of difficult developments, including the pandemic. “They had anticipated that the program would take years to build back up, but I already have bigger classes than they’ve ever had before. We had more students audition for the Spring musical than had ever auditioned for a show in the history of the school.” The lack of a robust, established Drama program may have proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Heather to make the program her own, and for a new culture, defined by growing enthusiasm and buy-in from students, to emerge organically. “Because things were so chaotic coming out of Covid, I had the flexibility to rebuild it in the way that I wanted. The first year it was exhausting and hard, but I smiled through the whole thing. It was just amazing to get to know these kids and for them to find purpose in life in the theater.”

 

Heather’s educational approach is shaped by a commitment to the importance of exploration, experimentation, and risk. She endeavors to make the theater “a safe place”, where students are free to try and to fail. “The key to a successful show isn’t necessarily having seasoned actors, but to have a place where students are safe to go as far as they can,” Heather explains. “I tell my students that it’s easy to tell an actor to dial it back from something that is too big or too much, but it’s harder to push and say, ‘Give me more’. That gives them permission to just go for it and try new things and be as brave and as bold as possible.” As the leader and tone-setter for the program, Heather has to take risks, too. “I made sure to choose really ambitious shows, shows that were dangerous, kind of, in their content, because I wanted to do something that was resonant and relevant for the students. So the students got to see me take a risk, and I think that modeled something important for them.”

 

As Heather continues to build the program, she is grateful that she gets to do it here in El Dorado County, where her work is as rewarding as it is challenging. “We’ve got a great diversity of people, not just economically, but ideologically, politically. I love the challenge of not having a homogeneous population, because it makes them work to understand each other. For all of us, our similarities are so much greater than our differences. To get people to see that, and to get people to peel back to that base layer of humanity and find what connects us—that’s a huge part of theater.”