Recently at the Celebrity Fan Fest in San Antonio, Texas, Helen Slater, who played the original Supergirl in the 1984 film and currently plays Eliza Danvers, the adoptive mother of Karra Danvers, A.K.A. Supergirl in the current CW series, appeared in a panel along with fellow Superman Family alumni, who plays the Atom on CW’s Legends of Tomorrow and current Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman, Brandon Routh.
During the very fun, packed and well-received panel, a fan who also happened to be a retired teacher in the audience, stood and asked both Slater and Routh if either of them had an influential teacher or mentor who really encouraged them to be who they are today.
To each of their credit, the actors both thanked the teacher for her service and work as an educator. And nodding his head in approval, Routh went on to say that his mother was a teacher, and as if talking just to the fan, he told her that he knew what it takes to be an educator. And at that moment, this Superman seemed to genuinely acknowledge and recognize the important role teachers play for all of the students and families whose lives they touch.
Slater’s response, however, struck me quite personally and very notably as she began immediately to speak about her experience attending New York’s School of Performing Arts, which was originally located at 120 West 46th Street in New York City, and was the basis for the acclaimed 1980 movie and hit television series, Fame. Performing Arts, however, is now known as the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, having combined with the High School of Music and Art in 1984, and is now located on 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in the back of Lincoln Center.
“I would say for me, when I went to the Performing High School in Manhattan and there were a bunch of us oddballs that were there and it was just this extraordinary experience and not only the teachers. I was originally a composer and wrote these bus and truck musicals that toured the city and I never would have had it, had it not been for that particular container of teachers and . . .” Slater then paused momentarily and in a seemingly nostalgic way searched for the right words before continuing, “. . . you know, basically flying your flag, whatever it is and we really did do these incredible creative acts that have influenced me forever.”
Routh looked on with a smile of what seemed to be admiration or perhaps envy as Slater continued, “Including I just finished a sixth album based on the myth of the Selkie and the Fisherman and that feels like a pinnacle creative project and there’s no chance that that would have ever happened if the foundation from writing when I was in my High School years, these little Bus and Truck musicals that came right out of those teachers that were there, so thanks for that question, it was a great question.”
And at that moment just as the audience began to applaud, Routh then jumped in and inquisitively asked Slater for clarification saying, “What did you call them, Bus and Truck musicals?” Slater then smiled, nodded her head and confirmed the term for her Super panel mate, “Bus and Truck musicals.”
“So what that means is literally we would take a myth or a fairytale-like The Emperor’s Nightingale, Hans Christian Anderson, improvised it and it was sort of this marvelous gospel, rock, forty five minute show. And you have three black boxes, a truck of hats and capes sometimes . . .” with her eyes opening wide along with a smile that seemed to draw upon some very fond high school musical memories as she went on to say, “and you’re taking them to schools in Harlem and Brooklyn and Queens. And Bus and Truck means you get on a bus and you . . .” and as Slater left off her sentence with a smile on her face and a swirling of her hands, an equally smiling Routh jumped in to complete her sentence saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, a traveling circus.” as he sat back, looked at the audience with an approving grin said, “Cool. That’s awesome!”
As a fellow graduate and alumni, of LaGuardia, or Music and Art as we called it, it says a lot about both who Helen Slater is as well as about the Performing Arts School, that when asked what influenced her career, this renowned actress would think of her Performing Arts high school, its students and her teachers, along with everything she learned while studying there, as hugely influential in her ongoing journey as an artist, actress, singer, songwriter, performer and ‘Superwoman”.
Well said, Ms. Slater!