MCC Theater Instructor Inspires Students in the Spoken Word

theater instructor Jay Geller with students at McHenry County College

From the moment Jay Geller acted in a play while he was a student at Northeastern Illinois University, he found his life's passion and never let go. 

"I wasn't working at the time, and my mother said, 'You're not going to just sit around the house.' My friend suggested that I try out for a play. It was an adaptation of Continental Op, by Daschiel Hammett. It was my first time on stage, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever," he said.

After his first taste of theater, Geller went on to earn a bachelor's degree in radio, TV and film from Northern Illinois University and a Master's of Fine Arts in acting from Illinois State University. After numerous college and professional performances, both as actor and director, he continues  his passion as an instructor of theater and speech at McHenry County College. Now in his 12th year at MCC, Geller shares his passion for the spoken word by teaching speech, journalism, theatre and acting classes. He also directs and produces two plays each year. He was influenced by such actors as Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep.

"If students see that I'm excited about the material, they'll be excited," he said.

Whether students are novices, semi-professional actors or public speakers, he patiently guides them to perform to the best of their abilities and motivates through positive feedback.

"I'll say, 'keep working toward this…instead of this,' Geller said. “It’s all about the process. The results are not always the important thing. The process used to develop a character only grows stronger with practice, so learning to find what works for the student is important so they can use it in other facets of their lives. Hopefully, students will apply what they learn in class to their personal lives and career no matter what line of work they go into."

Geller calls theater a collaborative art, where people work as part of a team from the first rehearsal to the curtain closing on the final performance.

"Even actors on stage can't do their art without support from other people," he said.

Under Geller's professional expertise and positive demeanor, student actors hone their skills by performing in plays that attract many standing-room only crowds. In fact, the Black Box Theater boasted its highest attendance ever this academic year, with a total of 1,677 people who watched performances of Suburbia, a sizzling drama; What Am I Going to Do Now, a one-person autobiographical show, and the Broadway smash musical, The Wedding Singer.

Geller's efforts earned him MCC’s Faculty of the Year award in 2009. He also was recognized with a teaching excellence award by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) in 2009.

When he’s not teaching or directing plays, Geller enjoys family activities with his wife and their four teenagers.

It's been a long time since his first appearance on stage in 1981, but to this day, Geller can recite the first line from the play to anyone who's willing to lend an ear.

Published by Donna Bieschke

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