After 47 years at Gainesville High School, Theater Director Pam Ware is taking her final bow.
Her impact can be felt all across Georgia — and it can be seen in her office, where dozens of photos adorn the walls of folks who passed through her program and went on to do major things in the world of theater.
“Every one of these people that you see up here on the walls and in the halls ... they have been a part of me,” Ware said, rattling off their names and their successes, many with Broadway shows to their credit. “It’s just a lifetime of memories — just a lifetime.”
Ware began her career in education in 1962 as an English teacher and theater director in Selma, Ala., before moving to North Georgia in 1974 with her late husband Bill.
Although Ware, 80, retired as a full-time teacher in 2009, she continued to serve part-time as the theater director. She began her career at Gainesville High School teaching literature and coaching debate, and she built the theater program from the ground up.
Gainesville High School’s first production was held in the old lunchroom. Lights were fastened inside old food cans and then rigged to volleyball poles.
“Those were the days we had to be creative, but we did create great theater,” Ware said.
After many years and many awards, her name now adorns the Pam Ware Performing Arts Center, known as “The Ware House.”
“The impact Pam Ware has had on theater in North Georgia can not be quantified,” said Sammy Smith, treasurer of Gainesville’s board of education. “Her influence is felt through generations of students in whom she instilled passion and excellence in the performing arts.”
It was only by chance — or fate, as Ware would have it — that she happened upon a career in theater. An awful experience as a senior in high school almost ensured that she would never set foot on stage again.
One day her math teacher told her that if she wanted to pass the class, she would need to take part in the school play. Ware protested, reminding her teacher that she had all As in the class. But to no avail, if she wanted to pass, she had to take the stage.
“It was the most miserable experience I had ever had in my life and embarrassing,” Ware said. “I vowed I would never, ever be in another play.”
After high school, Ware attended Louisiana Tech and was “dead set” on becoming an electrical engineer. But a couple professors saw something in her that she had not seen in herself — or that she had suppressed.
While in college, she worked as a typist for a man named Robert Snyder, who was the chair of the English department and the ghost writer for then governor Huey Long, she said.
Synder told Ware, “‘Pamela, you do not want to be an engineer.’”
“‘But I do want to be an engineer,’” she told him.
“‘Well, we'll just see,’” he said.
Ware wanted to graduate early, and at the time, she said every student was required to take a Communism 101 course before graduating. Snyder told her she had to choose between two professors, a woman with a bad reputation among students or a man named Dr. Stone, head of the theater department.
She decided on Dr. Stone, and a few weeks into the course, he asked her to stay after class. She walked into his office, sat down and he asked her why she was so keen on graduating early.
“‘Well, I want to get on with my life,’” she told him. “‘I’m not one to wait around. I just want to move it.’”
Dr. Stone noted that she had all A’s in the class and made a deal with her: She could skip the remaining tests, but he wanted her to shadow the actors in the upcoming play and help them backstage.
“It just brought back horrible memories,” Ware recalled.
“‘Sir, I cannot do that,’” she said to Dr. Stone.
“‘Well, you’re going to have to if you want to pass this class,’” he said.
Her second experience with theater, however, would prove much better than the first. She ended up graduating with a dual degree in engineering and performance.
“It changed my life,” Ware said. “The whole experience showed me, first of all, teachers have a very important job to do and that is to get to know their students to know what makes those students come out of their shell.”
During Ware’s interview with The Times in her office, a group of students in one of her theater classes walked in and sat on the couches. They had just submitted reflection papers about their improvement as actors and actresses.
“I cried when I read your paper last night,” she told one of her students. “It was so well written. I've got goosebumps just talking about it.”
It may be one of the last papers Ware grades at Gainesville High School, but her work is not quite finished.
Gainesville High School will end the year with three shows — “Bright Star,” “Anything Goes,” and “Guys and Dolls” — from Dec. 7 to Dec. 9.
“We would love for the community to come out and support our thespians and Ms. Ware at their final shows of the year,” said GHS Principal Jamie Green. “Ms. Ware’s unmatched energy, positive demeanor, and love for our students and community will be greatly missed.”
Even in retirement, Ware said she will remain busy. She plans to spend time with her two children and her two grandchildren, traveling to New York to attend Broadway shows and visiting Ormond Beach in Florida.