O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon drama teacher uses the stage to create new world for kids

Danielle Schnable with her mom, Judy Jung, and sister, Nicki Hansley
Danielle Schnable with her mom, Judy Jung, and sister, Nicki Hansley

Danielle Schnable has combined her passion for teaching and theater to provide a thriving arts enrichment program through the O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department.

The program has proven to be so popular that it has expanded to offer something each season. Next up is a production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” as the spring musical. Work begins Jan. 24.

Auditions are the first night at the Katy Cavins Community Center, and rehearsals are at 5 p.m., Tuesdays, through March 21. (There’s no class Feb. 28.) A special final rehearsal is set on March 23. The performance March 24 takes place at Marie Schaefer Elementary School.

“There are parts for everyone,” Schnable said.

Everyone must be registered, though. Registration is through the Parks and Recreation Department and is required prior to auditioning.

Children participate from throughout the area, not just O’Fallon. Schnable said children from Belleville, Lebanon, Mascoutah, and even St. Louis, are involved.

“I like the different children we meet. I love seeing the impact it has on them. The confidence this gives them is amazing. It helps students come out of their shell, makes them better students,” she said. “We have kids who start off really shy. Then the next production they will have a solo, then they’ll have lines. They blossom in other areas.”

The rec programs include all who want to be involved.

“We don’t have to cut kids. This is so important for them. For athletic kids, you have sports. There are academic clubs for kids. With theater, there is always something for everyone — you can do costumes, sets, tech work — there is always some way to reach every kid who wants to participate,” she said.

This is the sixth year Schnable, 31, is managing the performing opportunities.

Danielle is joined by her sister, Nicki Hansley, who is a first-grade teacher at Marie Schaefer.

Schnable has been a learning consultant at Holy Trinity School in Fairview Heights for five years.

The sisters first teamed up at Wolf Branch School in Swansea, where Danielle produced productions for five years.

A parks department employee asked Danielle if she was interested in forming an acting class. It was at a time when some of the arts programs were being pulled out of schools because of budgets.

“We started that once a year, and it has expanded little by little. Now it’s fall, winter, spring and summer,” she said.

Last year, 45 children participated in “The Wizard of Oz” as a winter musical. This year, a Christmas program was inaugurated with “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which was presented Dec. 20 with 20 children in the cast.

Typically, a spring production draws 40 to 50 students. Their fall “Back-to-School Glee Camps” usually have 15 to 20 children partake.

Being O’Fallon natives and teachers, parents know them, and they work together well, which helps the program succeed.

“I think we’re on the same page. We both have things we’re really good at individually. I’ll work with the script and music, and she’ll work with the costumes and props, and we have the same goal on what we want the show to be,” she said.

Nicki is the older sister, and has two sons who participate in the program.

Schnable said she has witnessed Carter, 7, grow, like many kids in the shows.

“He started when he was 4, and he was petrified to be on stage. He was in the chorus, in a big herd of kids, but in the last show, he had 10 lines, a duet, and got up on stage without any hesitation,” she said. “I’m close to my family, so it’s fun to be working together.”

Both sisters took dance lessons as children. Their parents, Ken and Judy Jung of O’Fallon, were supportive of the arts.

“We were very encouraged to stay with it,” Schnable said.

Her first experience in a musical was in seventh grade at Fulton Junior High School, in a production of “Oliver.”

While at O’Fallon Township High School, she performed in show choir. She attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale and then earned a bachelor’s degree in education from McKendree University (kindergarten through ninth-grade certified).

She is currently working on a master’s degree in an online program through the American Academy of Education in Indiana.

For years, she was active in local community theater, including performing with Curtains Up in Edwardsville, Hard Road Theatre in Highland, Brass Rail Players in Belleville, and Family Musical Theatre in St. Louis.

It was during another production of “Oliver” in 2009 at Family Musical Theatre that she met her husband, John Schnable, who also shares her dedication to education and a talent on stage. He currently is a special education math teacher at Fort Zumwalt East in St. Peters, Mo.

Recreation Supervisor Patrick Poore-Christensen said the theater program under the Jung sisters has consistently been one of the most well-attended programs the department offers.

“Once kids start in their program, they come back performance after performance. Through all the work they put in with their programs, they have developed a loyal, following fan base of kids and parents,” Poore-Christensen said. “Their passion and effort is what makes their shows so successful. They bring their A game to every practice, rehearsal, and performance, and have been great to work with on making there program successful over the past few years.”

This will also work as associate producers for this year’s Missoula Children’s Theatre performance of “Gulliver’s Travels.” Auditions are from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27.

Missoula is a traveling professional theater group that sets up a week-long residency and offers up to 60 school-age children experience performing in a full-scale musical. This is the 16th year that O’Fallon sponsors the tour.

Schnable said they bring in several people, conduct auditions, provide costumes, makeup, scenery and props, and she and Nicki will oversee it.

In the summer, the duo will helm a Theater Camp for a week, June 26-30, from 12:45 to 4 p.m.

In the new year, Schnable intends to initiate a drama program for grades 2 through 8 at Holy Trinity School.

She will start with a revue-cabaret fundraiser to kick off the drama program. Her first goal is to purchase a curtain for the stage already available at the school.

“We have a beautiful stage. We want to make sure we do everything needed,” she said.

Teaching at Holy Trinity has been especially fulfilling, she said.

“It’s a wonderful community, our own little family. I love teaching at a Catholic school, love that I can bring my faith into the classroom,” she said.

As a learning consultant, she provides different services for each grade level.

“Not a lot of other schools have this opportunity we give to families. If they need academic help with reading or math, or need to address learning concerns, we help with that,” she said.

To participate in O’Fallon Parks and Recreation programs, Schnable suggested signing up online, and paying attention to the seasonal brochures that the department produces.

She also has an email database of about 350 parents, so she sends out notices of programs.

For more information, contact Schnable at dlschnable@gmail.com.

Q: Do you have words to live by?

A: ‘Nothing is impossible. The word itself says, ‘I’m possible’ — Audrey Hepburn.”

Q: Whom do you most admire?

A: My mom, Judy. Her strength, dedication, and hard work make her one of the most amazing people I know. I admire everything she is and everything she has taught me to be. I still have so much to learn from her.

Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?

A: Audrey Hepburn — her grace, elegance and poise makes her someone I would love to meet and have coffee with. The thing I admire most about Audrey is her all-around focus toward making a good first impression on people based on her grace and how she handled situations, but then being extraordinarily talented as well.

Q: What is the last book that you read?

A: “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman, wonderful book that I highly recommend.

Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?

A: Read, shop and drink Starbucks.

Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?

A: I think it is a disaster, but people at work tell me it looks perfect. I usually have all of my pens, pencils. and markers ready to use at any time and a lot of piles of “to-do” stuff on my desk. I absolutely love school supplies, so you will always find an array of Post-It notes, note pads and Sharpies ready to use.

Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?

A: I was always very interested in law, despite my mom’s suggestion to be a teacher, especially family or pediatric law. My sister, Nicki, who I co-direct with, inspired me to be a teacher when I saw her get to work first-hand with students while I was in college. Although my degree in education is nowhere near a law degree, I am blessed to be able to work every day with children and families.

Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?

A: I think my devotion to others and my career as an educator is my most outstanding characteristic. I have a strong desire to help people in my life, especially young children. People often ask me why I take on so many “extra tasks” at work, and my answer is simple, “I love what I do.”

Q: What irritates you most?

A: I am irritated when people change plans. I am one to set my plan or promise and stick to it — no matter what comes up.

Q: What type of music do you listen to?

A: All types. I love listening to musicals at work and “Kidz Bop” has become a staple as well.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: I love the impact that I am able to make on students every day. Working with students who need help in reading and math is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I get the privilege of seeing academic growth from my students everyday.

Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?

A: I would own a theater where I could produce my own shows, as well as rent out for local use. Next door would be a beautiful space for a dance studio and theater classes for kids. I have thought about this a time or two.

Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?

A: This is a very difficult question. I really enjoy watching Ginnifer Goodwin, and I would love to see her portray me on the big screen.

Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?

A: My phone, iPad, and family. Yes, I need to be able to keep in contact with the outside world at all times via my technology and cannot go a day without my wonderful husband, John, and my family.