While it’s been more than 40 years since John D. Shaw taught at Haddonfield Memorial High School and oversaw its theater program, his legacy lives on through a new endowment fund created by former students that has raised $25,000 to support graduating theater performers.
“I am so deeply honored,” Shaw said of the fund, overseen by what’s called the JDS (John D. Shaw) Legacy team. “My almost-decade of teaching at HMHS starting in 1973 was among the most fulfilling of my professional experiences …
“The fact that grown drama clubbers from so many years ago have now come together to support future theater enthusiasts is the most meaningful tribute I could imagine.”
The idea for the fund began in 2020 after a group of Shaw’s former students and community members got together to celebrate his 70th birthday with a special party and a video.
“From that, even over Zoom, I was chatting with Bill (Rauch, an esteemed artistic director and HMHS alum), and I said, ‘The energy around this particular project is so extraordinary, wouldn’t it be great if we could continue that to do some good?;” recalled Milly Massey, a member of the Legacy team.
That goal was realized this year and it marks the beginning of the JDS Legacy Grant, an award of $1,000 to a student to help further his or her study of theater arts, from acting to set design, lighting to fashion.
Rather than a grant tied to college, Massey said the Shaw award was an outgrant to allow more freedom for students as they choose to further their education, such as studying with a particular acting coach or outside the realm of college.
Though Shaw taught for fewer than 10 years at the high school, he had a lasting impact on students.
“If we had not had those experiences, if we had not had quite rigorous training and had not felt like we really belonged to something special, and that we all were equal citizens in that and everybody could contribute in the ways that they felt fulfilled them … this would have never come about,” Massey noted.
“We still wouldn’t be thinking about this guy 40 years later.”
There were two ways Massey was impacted by Shaw. She learned a lot about technical aspects from him and still uses some of his techniques as an educator with regard to things like writing stage directions or blocking a play. But more important is recreating the setting in which Shaw influenced his students.
“This environment he created once you walked into that auditorium of joy and of discovery was critical,” Massey recalled. “He had no tolerance for the typical backbiting stuff. He created an environment where so much of that just didn’t happen.”
To apply for the grant, current seniors will write an essay or film a passion statement explaining what theater means to them and what they would do with the endowment. The students can demonstrate their artistry through supplementary submissions that include an audition monologue, videos, scripts, and costume designs, among others.
The first grant is expected to be presented in June, after a recipient is chosen by members of the JDS Legacy Group of drama alumni and Haddonfield High faculty. An application is available to members of the 2023 graduating class; deadline for submission is Saturday, April 8.
More information is available at jdslegacy.org