Watching young actors grow is 'Poppy's' joy

During the last 15 years, Katherine Lear has directed many young Tevyas, Ado Annies and Harold Hills in musical plays at Rochester public middle schools.

Known endearingly as "Poppy" by friends, co-workers and students, Lear also is a sixth-grade teacher at John Adams Middle School. She has taught in the district for 19 years.

She earned a theater degree long before she decided to become a teacher. And before she moved back to her home town of Rochester, she had been an actor and theater director in New York and Los Angeles.

Last week, Lear watched her Willow Creek Middle School students perform "The Music Man" for their peers. This week, her John Adams students will perform "Fiddler on the Roof," and in June, Friedell Middle School students will perform "Oklahoma."

What do you like about directing the middle school plays?


Well, first of all, I love theater. And to be able to work with young people — it's so exciting to see their growth. Plus the kind of self-confidence that doing theater gives young people — it's an amazing, wonderful thing for me to be able to be a part of.

What one important thing do you hope your young actors will learn from you?

That theater is a very wonderful gift that they can give to the audience if they remain true to the character that they're portraying. If they do that, the audience will believe it.

Do the kids usually perform for fellow middle school students?

Yes, and I think they have to be the bravest people, ever, to do that. And they do a wonderful job.

Do you have a student right now that you think is exceptionally talented?

I have had, off and on, including this period, where I think, "That person could make it in the business." I won't mention any specific names, but, definitely, I've had kids that I think would go on, and very often they have.

Are you doing any acting yourself these days?


Yes, I do. I usually reserve it for the summertime because I tend to be too busy during the school year. Last year, I was in the Rochester Repertory Theatre's "Pirates of Penzance." I also do summer musicals with the Stewartville Community Theatre.

I hear your son is an opera singer.

Yes, his name is Ben Crickenberger. He is an opera singer with The Minnesota Opera. A week ago, he was in "La bohème" and he played the part of Benoit, who is the landlord in the story. I was very excited to hear him sing on that stage at the Ordway in St. Paul.

I have to ask, how did you get the nickname Poppy?

I got my name Poppy because of a play that I was in and my character's name was Poppy. People kept calling me Poppy after the play, and it just stuck. I love the name Poppy. It reminds me of theater.

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