August 23, 2009
Today marks the one year anniversary of the passing of my good friend and colleague Tracy Ann Iwersen (April 10, 1963-August 23, 2009). Tracy believed in imagination, children, and the power of theater for young audiences to make a difference in the world. She was passionate about the art of children’s theater; and she dedicated her career to teaching drama and performing for young people. For Tracy, there was nothing better than the sound of hundreds of kids laughing
Tracy Iwersen studied children’s theater at Kansas University under the mentorship of Dr. Jed Davis. After graduating from KU in 1981, she eventually moved to Omaha in 1986 and began working with the Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater on stage in The Velveteen Rabbit. She continued to work for the theater company as an actress, teacher and youth director for the next 23 years. Some of her most iconic roles were as Templeton in Charlotte’s Web, Alice in Wonderland, the puppeteer for LiL Ann in Where the Red Fern Grows, and Peter Pan. Tracy was funny, energetic, and imaginative in all of her acting roles at the theater; and she gave each performance 100%. She was gracious to her fellow performers (especially the younger students) .
Tracy probably made her greatest impact as a teacher. For many children in Omaha, Tracy was their first theater teacher during the summer, after school or on Saturday mornings. Whether it was a Harry Potter class (in crazy costumes), a Winnie-the-Pooh class for preschoolers, a creative drama class about wolves, or an archeological role drama that ended in a scavenger hunt around the Theater, Tracy’s classes were creative, memorable, and fun. Tracy had a talent for making all students feel welcome and to feel good about themselves. She was always there for her students (and fellow teachers) with a word of praise, a hug, or a sweet treat to make one feel better.
In 1999, Tracy co-founded the troupe Pride Players, a teen theater group that uses improvisation to explore gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual and straight allied issues. For 10 years, she co-directed the troupe that used improvisation to create the final performance. Tracy was passionate about empowering youth to use their own words to express their feelings, ideas and passions. Her dedication as a straight ally made a big difference in the community. In 2006, the National Education Association honored Tracy with a Human and Civil Rights Award for her work with Pride Players.
Tracy wasn’t well known on the national level of TYA. She wasn’t the education director or artistic director of our theater company. She presented at a couple of AATE conferences, but didn’t attend annually. She didn’t publish articles or books. Tracy wasn’t ambitious in that way. In many theater companies, every promotion actually takes the teaching artist farther and farther away from making the art and working with the kids. Tracy was passionate about connecting to kids here in Omaha. While she may not have had as big of a national impact as other important dignitaries in our field, Tracy had a huge impact on our community and in our company.
Today, I am remembering Tracy, trying to keep her spirit alive, and keeping her as my inspiration. It is a good day to remember Tracy and all of the other important teaching artists around the country who make our field as strong as it is.
What is Real?
It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.
In honor of Tracy Ann Iwersen, a REAL children’s theater artist