For John Doyle
, theater and community service are perfect partners
maternal grandfather encouraging him to become a dentist.
John Doyle talks with students Makeba Robinson and Yesenia Bello about upcoming performances. Thursday, June 27, 2013. Photo by Adrianna Hoff / Times Herald Staff.
and his mother Fran Doyle discuss paperwork in her office. Thursday, June 27, 2013. Photo by Adrianna Hoff / Times Herald Staff.
sits in front of the playbills on the 4th floor of the Centre Theater. Thursday, June 27, 2013. Photo by Adrianna Hoff / Times Herald Staff.
"I'd say that my family has had a significant influence on my development, and I can sort of compartmentalize pieces of what I've (inherited from whom)," Doyle
Doyle is the director of the Norristown Area School District Communications Center, a teacher at Norristown Area High School, co-founder and creative director of Iron Age Theatre and creative director of The Centre Theater.
"(Theater and community service) are tied together," he
"I can't separate my theatrical world in any way from my social activism."
Community activist was a role Doyle
learned from his
late father, John
, who ran Norristown's summer concerts, coached Little League and served on the parish council at St. Patrick's Church, among many other "downtown Norristown activities," he
taught me the need to engage in your community and be a voice of the underrepresented."
Serving as a security guard at NAHS post-retirement, John, or Jack as he was known by many, didn't just reprimand kids for their misbehavior, Doyle said of his father.
made sure kids developed into better people.
"That's a beacon for me in how I treat people in the world," Doyle
"It's all about grace and reinforcement and helping people to be better."
A couple of months ago Doyle
received ACPPA Community Arts Center's Luminary Award, which honors community members who demonstrate a "commitment to shining light on the arts and the Norristown community."
was chosen for his
success in "(heightening)" awareness of the arts as well as (engaging) Norristown youth in creative explorations that improve the quality of their lives."
"That award is given to an individual, but … most of what I do is in community with others," Doyle
, who created the Independent Voices Festival, Montgomery County's largest theater festival, said.
"I just end up being a button pusher there or the person who starts an idea rolling."
The Heart of the Arts summer camp currently running at the Centre Theater is one example of Doyle
"just (having) a good idea" that became a successful program because of his
mother's ambition and a capable staff of artists.
"My mom does the hard work, making sure management is in place, and those teachers go out there and create magic," he
Mother and son designed the program to teach children "to be active creators no matter who you are," as Doyle
Campers spend five weeks writing their own musical from scratch and performing it "however the heck it comes out," he
said, and the program teaches kids to do the same with dance and fine arts.
"I guess I still hear my grandfather's voice," Doyle
said, explaining his
motivation to teach kids to enjoy the arts without expecting to make a career of it and his
hope that they'll carry a love for creating with them through life.
Another well-received venture Doyle
has a hand in is Walla Fest, a music and art show held several times a year (including today beginning at 4 p.m.) at the Centre Theater that was created by three NAHS
"I'd been talking at the Centre about the need to create musical programming in a coffeehouse environment," Doyle
"We do the regular high school stuff like games and concerts for the whole district," Doyle
"But we also produce five regular TV series.
It's a very community-driven news magazine."
As part of the station's external programming, students have opportunities to work with politicians and professionals, "making them responsible in an adult world," Doyle
One of the shows Doyle
produces, "Can We Talk?
features a "roundtable conversation from the Norristown urban perspective.
"What we're trying to create with this TV station is a way for Norristown
to access information that is hyper-local but not headline news," Doyle
"It's much more about allowing organizations to get access to the community."
Now in its 20th year, Doyle
and collaborator Randy Wise's nonprofit theater company, Iron Age Theatre
, has become a staple of the community, and more recently, perhaps an element that could help "bridge the Schuylkill divide."
While Iron Age
maintains its years-long position as the Center Theater's resident theater company, in recent years the company began collaborating with theaters in Philadelphia and has since become a regular at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
"Now instead of two shows at Centre Theater, we're producing six works a year …, and bringing some of our work from Norristown into Philadelphia," Doyle said, adding that he hopes to, in turn, bring people from Philadelphia to Norristown.
As a "strong advocate for social justice through theater," Doyle
has found his
place as a solo director with works like "Marx in Soho.
And Iron Age continues to stage its annual Juneteenth, a dramatic walking tour of downtown Norristown that celebrates the emancipation proclamation.
said the arts have much to offer Norristown
in the way of revitalization, but certain complementary components are missing, "one being a broader shopping (district) and especially a restaurant community downtown.
"If the only reason to come downtown is to see a show at our theater or Theatre Horizon," he
explained, "then there's no way you're going to revitalize the town, because people can come see a show and then leave.
We need to get them into town before a show or make them stay when we're done.
"With Walla Fest …, we bring hundreds of people into Norristown
to see the rock bands and then they leave to get something to eat in Plymouth Meeting or Upper Merion.
We have all of these young people coming into town who would like to hang out at a coffee shop before the show, but instead they go to the Wawa in Bridgeport.
"I think that when you get kids engaged in the arts, they begin to see humanity as being worth something," Doyle
"They work (together).
They create as opposed to destroy.
Kids from different backgrounds are suddenly transformed into active, participating, compassionate members of the community."
To be as active as Doyle
is and to maintain a 26-year marriage requires superb scheduling skills, Doyle
joked, before adding, "I have this woman who completely understands my creative and community-based nature and is completely supportive of that.
, who's also one of the creative producers at Hope Community Church in Upper Merion, said he
may not have any solo time, but "leisure isn't the answer - activity's the answer to life."
then described a staged reading he
'd just attended and the sense of community he felt that night, adding, "When the (NASDtv) kids and I are shooting the 'The Eagle's Eye,' we care about each other, we treat each other well, we make sure the work is good.
For John Doyle
, theater and community service are perfect partners