Bucks County Herald

Bucks teacher who inspired “Rise” inducted into Playhouse Hall of Fame



Jeffrey Seller, left, Flody Suarez, Lou Volpe, Michaela Murphy and Michael Sokolove at the April 14 ceremony at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, during which Volpe was inducted into the Bucks County Playhouse Hall of Fame.

Lou Volpe, the retired theater education pioneer, was recently inducted into the Bucks County Playhouse Hall of Fame, following such honorees as Angela Lansbury, Oscar Hammerstein and Shirley Jones.

A formal ceremony was held April 14 at the historic playhouse.

Volpe, whose career is the inspiration behind “Rise,” the new TV series on NBC, was heralded for his life’s work as a high school drama teacher at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown. During his tenure there, he transformed that Bucks County community with the magic of theater.

The Hall of Fame Induction included a tribute to Volpe by Truman High School teacher Tracey Gatte and other fellow educators. School alumni performed “Seasons of Love” from “RENT,” one of the shows presented at Harry S. Truman during Volpe’s 44-year tenure. The alumni were accompanied by Graeme Burgan.

Volpe’s induction coincides with the 50th anniversary of Bucks County Playhouse’s Student Theater Festival, where for more than 30 years, his students “electrified” thousands of participants with their presentations.

He was presented the award by Bucks County Playhouse Producing Director Alexander Fraser and Executive Producer Robyn Goodman. Additional remarks were made by “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller (also a producer of “Rise”) as well as “Rise” producer Flody Suarez.

Hans Weichhart, chief relationship officer at the Educational Theatre Association, and Michaela Murphy, education director at Bucks County Playhouse and a nationally known storyteller, actress, coach and teacher, spoke about ongoing programs and Volpe’s impact.

Michael Sokolove, author of “Drama High,” the book that inspired the television program, also paid tribute to Volpe.

Fraser realized the impact Volpe had in the community, especially after reading the book “Drama High.”

“I was so connected to the story, that I was in tears through much of the book,” he said.

“Lou truly changed lives – thousands of lives. ... “We believe by inducting Lou into our Hall of Fame, we demonstrate the importance every high school drama teacher has on their students.”

Volpe and Truman High School were asked to present the premiere high school pilot production of “Les Miserables,” “Rent,” and “Spring Awakening” by the New York licensing company, Music Theatre International.

These productions gained national recognition for Volpe and Truman, with well-known producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh traveling to Levittown for the opening of Volpe’s acclaimed production of “Les Miserables” and leading the audience in a standing ovation.

In 2014, Ford’s Theatre in Washington named Volpe “the arts education teacher of the year.”

He and his son, Tom, attended the gala in his honor and while there they were invited to The White House to meet President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

In 2013, Sokolov’s book “Drama High,” which celebrated and chronicled Volpe’s remarkable career, was published and named to The New York Times Best Seller List. In 2015, Broadway producer Jeffrey Seller (“Hamilton,” “Rent,” “Avenue Q,” and “In the Heights”) developed the book, with writer Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood”) into the TV series (“Rise”) that premiered March 13, on NBC.

Volpe is a beloved and admired theater adjudicator at Bucks County Playhouse’s annual Student Theater Festival.

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