by Lou Mancinelli
When Los Angeles seems more like a city for the connected or the lost than home to a city of angels, what does one do with his/her aspirations for the theater and beyond?
For second grade Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) teacher and Mt. Airy resident Mary Ann Domanska, it meant moving back to her hometown in North Carolina for a year before moving in with her sister in Philadelphia and dabbling in various fields until she discovered the one that best suited her vision for her future.
Before that, in L.A. in 1993, Domanska worked numerous positions and auditioned for roles as she attempted to jostle herself into a viable career in the film industry. She worked as a script reader for MGM Studios, an assistant at the International Documentary Association, an intern for Gilla Roos Casting Agency and a production assistant.
“I thought it would be more about my talent and less about my connections,” said Domanska, 39, about her time in L.A. “I didn’t want to spend too much of my life hoping for a break that would probably never come.”
She left L.A. in her early 20s and eventually returned to school in 2000 at Chestnut Hill College, earning her teacher’s certification and a master’s degree in elementary education in 2003.
In 1994 Mary Ann graduated with a BFA degree in performing arts from Emerson College in Boston, minoring in creative writing and photography. After graduating from Emerson, Domanska bounced between jobs and worked in mortgage lending (in North Carolina), photo framing, as an office manager for a play therapist, for an architectural firm and interim director for the Girl Scouting Without Bars program at the former Freedom Valley Girl Scout Council in Valley Forge for a year (great experience).
“Eventually, I realized that I wanted to do something with and for children,” she said. In 2000 Domanska gave birth to a daughter, Clara. At the same time her vision for the future evolved. How could she parlay her passion for creativity and her background in performing arts? Since she started at Springside in 2003, Domanska has worked to spread her affinity for the arts throughout the campus.
Though she traded her dreams of the soundstage for the classroom, her degree in fine arts has not gone unused. For the past few years Domanska has served as the co-director of SpringsideCHA’s Summerside on the Hill Performing Arts Camp hosted in July. She recently performed in “The Deadly Game” production presented by Chestnut Hill’s Stagecrafters Theater and has appeared in various local productions at the Allens Lane Art Center. And on Saturday, July 28, 6:30 p.m., she will be performing in “Dead Right,” a whodunit murder mystery at Scoogi’s restaurant, 738 Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown.
She’s also serving her sixth year as the troop leader of local Girl Scout Troop 98 that meets at Allens Lane Art Center. As a young girl, her mother served as her troop leader, and before that her grandmother provided the same role to her daughter. For the women in her family the Girl Scouts are a tradition. Domanska herself earned her Gold Award, the Girl Scouts equivalent to an Eagle Scout, and is now charged with directing the efforts of at least three girls in her troop as they work towards their Silver Award, the last badge earned before one takes on Gold Award responsibilities.
And in keeping with her creative background, Domanska is now at work on a middle grade novel, “Emic Rizzle, Tinkerer,” inspired by her experiences in the classroom. She aims to publish the book sometime next year. (To find out more visit her Kickstarter project online.)
Publishing is one thing Domanska is using to light the flame of creativity in her students. Last month on Twitter, the American College of Education mentioned Domanska in a tweet that read “Mary Ann Domanska inspires her 2nd graders by publishing it online so they feel like authors…”
Mary Ann explained, “That was a reference to the use of technology in my classroom as a tool to motivate students by giving them the option to do dramatic readings of their stories…In short, the end product (a podcast as one example) inspires students to work at a higher level. They become more invested in the work because they get to celebrate it beyond the written page. Performance makes their stories come alive, and that makes the whole process more meaningful and fun!”
ISTE stands for the International Society for Technology in Education. Domanska attended this year’s conference in San Diego the last week in June. She conducted an interview with the Local as she rode back to her hotel from a kayaking venture the final afternoon of the event.
“The conference was inspiring and frightening,” said Domanska.
Still, it helped her learn about her craft. “Over and over again I heard at the conference how important it is for children to be supported and encouraged to develop their creativity and entrepreneurial skills. This is exciting for me as a professional because it is how we are already doing things at SpringsideCHA.”