Tribute to Joan Potthast

After near or over 50 years, a beloved teacher retires from her high school. The alumni who had performed with her through her tenure returned to perform for her in a real-life 'Mister Holland's Opus' event.

Tribute to Joan Potthast

Caricature of my mother

The image above is my version of my mother inspired by Hirschfeld drawings provided by an alum. My mother taught high school English, writing, and drama for over 40 years (probably closer to 50), and in Spring of 2016 she retired. 42+ years of this career were spent at one school where she also directed the fall and spring theatrical productions. For a time out fresh out of college, I even helmed the set design and stage management for these shows for just over a decade. Working so closely with one’s mother in a professional capacity, I saw first hand her connection and dedication to students. I formulated various scenes/songs/performances in my head on the very stages I grew up on, and knew something spectacular needed to happen for her send off.

Beaten to the Punch

Long time family friends whose multiple generations attended my mothers classes and helped with the various shows also contemplated a performance. It was one of their sons that broached the idea of an alumni show around January of 2016, I think.  I sometimes think it work kind of like the idea of Multiple Discovery in science. We all had this idea ruminating, but Justin was the first to mention it aloud. We assembled the ‘Creative Team’ comprised of multi-generational alumni, and colleagues of hers. There was Justin, Kathy, Greg, Kara, Chantal, Kim, Danielle, Jake, Josie, and myself—just to name a few. The whole thing was to be a massive surprise of course.

The Show

We set out to make a show, but what it evolved into can never be duplicated or recreated again. We generated a script highlighting many of the shows my mother produced and directed over the years form Shakespearian comedies to Disney musicals. I rewrote a Hugh Laurie/Rowan Atkinson skit for my brother and I. It poked fun epic monologues like ‘To Be, or Not to Be’ and how editing counts. I also wrote a short tribute to my dad for the show. Throughout her career, he always stayed right there with my mother. Chantal made sure that every set item we used was something he constructed over the myriad of years. I think it is best, for brevity, to summarize many of the duties a lot of us took on below.

My brother and I

A Small Rewrite: Shakespeare is at odds with his editor

  • Kathy choreographed and directed the entire show (as well as having two alumni choreographers/dancers, Angela and Erika, design other specific numbers—one was even preparing to go on the American in Paris touring show shortly after out of New York).
  • Josie became a professional stage manager since graduating and used some downtime before she set on her world tour with the 20th anniversary tour of Rent.
  • Chantal created a hilarious and amazing crossover piece between Grease and Music Man.
  • Greg, the choir/band teacher at the school and worked with her on numerous performances, helped score music and such.
  • Kim coordinated nearly every business aspect one could think of.
  • Justin, using his skills from behind the scenes at our local CBS affiliate, coordinated and established video effects, timing.
  • His brother Jake ran lights while their mother headed mics and cuing.
  • Danielle became an assistant director.
  • Even Jake’s wife, a pastry chef, created a massive cake for the after party.
  • Finally, I took control of visuals and print media, branding etc. (To save time, Justin used some animated video backdrops)

The Cast

The Creative Team was also in the show at the same time. Through the use of social media platforms, email, phone calls, Alumni relations at the school, word of mouth, and even online surveys, we amassed hundreds of alumni to participate. We reached literally around the world, from Brazil to Ireland and other places. Alumni also came in from distant states like Montana, Washington, and Florida. We had only about 72 hours of rehearsal time, but the end result any amount of words do not do justice. A fellow alumni friend of mine was even able to coordinated a Rolls Royce and chauffeur to pick my mother and father up at their house, complete with champagne.

cis: St. Dominic

We had a whole section dedicated to protagonists of various love stories. This was the ‘Monster Truck Rally’ backdrop image I created.


Not only an After Party, but a Follow-Up DVD party because a lot of us were too busy being in the show. to watch the show.

The After Party

A show wouldn’t be enough. We plotted and planned a mega reunion the likes of which I don’t think any high school has ever seen. we kept it Germain to the cast parties we remembered from days of yore: pizza, soda, and cake. However, since a majority of us were adults now, we also had alcohol. My mom ‘sat’ at a head table (I don’t think she sat down at the after party at all, honestly).

The After After Party

Like any band of revelry, our shenanigans carried on well after the initial night of the performance. Still another alum recorded the whole thing. Justin again plied his talents and edited multiple camera shots into a fantastic DVD. We then gathered/invited who could make it in mid/late November and watched the event in all of its recorded glory. Many of us have since taken the time to introduce other friends and family to the show. This tribute now has a life all its own.

The Echoes of Experience

As I have said: words themselves cannot adequately express this creation. This collaborative effort allowed me to realize I truly am an Experience Designer. Immersed in the project, I barely felt like I did anything. It was not just me though. Everyone involved contributed in volumes beyond anything I could have done myself. Working with dedicated professionals, many I’ve known for either my entire life or theirs, come together for my mother is something this little boy could’ve only every wished for. We played, we danced, we sang. We defined an experience front to back, culture to talent, and my part was only a part of whole that became so much greater.

hugging family
Share if interested

View More: , , , , , , , ,