Her students’ work is viewed by thousands each year and has been recognized and honored repeatedly in the metro area and at state and national competitions. But this teacher and coach remains mostly behind the scenes. Karla Penechar, who teaches technical theatre and coaches debate at Ray-Pec High School, is now in the spotlight after she was recently announced as the 2019 Wayne Brown Outstanding Speech and Theatre Teacher for Missouri.
The award, which includes a plaque and $250, was presented by the Speech and Theatre Association of Missouri (STAM) at its conference Sept. 19-21 at Lake of the Ozarks.
Penechar was nominated for the award by Todd Schnake, who teaches theatre and coaches forensics at Ray-Pec High School; Matt Good, debate coach at Lee's Summit West High School; and Don Johnson, theatre teacher at Liberty High School.
Schnake said he first met Karla 20 years ago when they worked together on a production of ‘Anything Goes’ with Central Missouri Rep.
In his nomination letter, he said “I found her to be a committed theatre artist and enjoyed working with her greatly. Less than a month later, we had a tech theatre/debate position available. Mike Beahm (now-retired teacher from RPHS) and I immediately began recruiting Karla to join us at Ray-Pec,” he said.
Schnake said he thinks she is incredibly talented as a set designer and technical director.
"And I'm not the only one,” he said. “Productions such as ‘Crazy for You,’ ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie,’ ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ and ‘Into the Woods’ were recognized at the Kansas City Blue Star Awards as the top musical theatre set designs in the greater K.C. area.”
“On several occasions over the years, her work has been on display at the Missouri State Thespian Conference. Her designs for ‘Sylvia,’ ‘The Foreigner,’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ all appeared there and were heralded as impressive feats in technical theatre,” he continued. Yet, as impressive as all those sets were, they are merely indicative of the caliber of work she does on every production.
“Karla's contribution to our field is not limited to her work in the theatre. She has also made herself into a very successful debate coach. After starting off having never seen a competitive debate round, she has grown into a coach who sends debaters to state and nationals."
"Karla Penechar is the kind of educator that we need more of in this business. Her talent, dedication, and care for her students make her an excellent candidate for the Outstanding Teacher Award," Schnake wrote.
2010 Ray-Pec graduate Ron Stephenson said "I would not be the man I am today and the theatre professional that I am without her." Stephenson is now a member of the IATSE Union and head of props for Disney on Ice. IATSE is the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts Union. "She helped me find my passion and my path for what I can contribute to this world," he said. "People like Karla are what make education so important."This is Penechar's 30th year of teaching. She taught 10 years at Kansas City Middle School of the Arts and has been teaching 20 years at Ray-Pec. She received a bachelor in fine arts degree in Technical Theatre from the University of Central Missouri and a Master of Fine Arts in Scenography (Theatre Design) from the University of Kansas. She is from Kansas City, and is a 1981 graduate of Raytown South High School.
STAM includes middle school, high school, and university level theatre instructors. The Ray-Pec School District is one of only a handful of schools to have two current instructors receive this award. Todd Schnake, who teaches theatre and coaches forensics at Ray-Pec High School, received the award in 2007. Pam Schnake, who retired last spring after teaching middle school theatre for Ray-Pec, received the award in 2012.
(In the photo, Karla Penechar works with students Blake Oser and Lillith Monroe on the set of "Lost in Yonkers.")