Teresa De Zarn’s list of Broadway and national touring credits demands attention—Grizabella the Glamour Cat, The Phantom’s Christine, King Arthur’s Guinevere, and plenty of others during a two-decade career. Five years ago, retired from touring, she returned home to Cincinnati to help care for her ailing parents; after they passed away, De Zarn went in search of her next venture. It turned out to be a position as theater director and producer at her alma mater, Archbishop McNicholas High School, where she’s taught since 2012.
What were some of your favorite career moments? My opening night as Grizabella in Cats on Broadway, with my mom in the audience. She waited a long time for that and it meant so much to share that with her. One of the best national tours I did was The Mystery of Edwin Drood with the late, great Jean Stapleton. Loved her. I played Rosa Bud and finally got to be funny.
What was the toughest part? I was very fortunate early in my career—I was single and able to travel easily. It did get lonely. After getting married at age 38 and having [my son] at age 40, I chose to stay home. I kept doing commercials and concerts from time to time, but I took the mom role very seriously.
How did you transition from dancer to a triple-threat actor/singer/dancer? I’d been dancing since I was a little girl. Senior year [of high school] I told the director I’d really like to sing, and he told me, “No, you’re a dancer.” This man wanted to pigeonhole me! All you have to say to me is “No.” I went home and said, “Mom, I need to take voice lessons.” Years later, I was in Toronto doing Phantom of the Opera, and [my high school director] and his wife came back to the dressing room. He apologized, but I said, “No—I’m here because of you!”
Was teaching always part of the life plan? Never! Ken Jones [then Northern Kentucky University’s theater/dance department chair] called and said, “Come direct Cats.” Then he offered me a teaching job. I thought, How can I teach? I know how to do, but I hadn’t finished my degree. Ken said it was the perfect time, so I became a student and teacher.
How does your professional experience contribute to your role at McNich? I treat everyone who walks into my class as if they’re trying out for Broadway. I don’t teach a club. Whether they’re freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors, I tell them “You’re part of the theater family.”
What are the most important things you teach? Be open and vulnerable. How do we open ourselves to the whole world and to ourselves? It’s such a mature thing to do at 14, 15. But you can’t act if you can’t be vulnerable. Theater is a great place to learn how to fail. It’s life—we try, we fail, we survive. With me, kids get credit for trying.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a teacher? That you have to think young. You can’t get old.