As director of the theatre program at Chattanooga Christian School (CCS) in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mary Catherine Drexler Schimpf has been directing musicals and plays, teaching acting classes, and running a full-time musical theatre camp for children in the summer for a decade. She teaches all ages (kindergarten through 12th grade) but primarily focuses on high school students.
After graduating from Westminster in 2001, Mary Catherine moved to the Chattanooga area to attend Covenant College, where she received a B.A. in music in 2005. Her passion for theatre began and grew at Westminster and blossomed during her time at Covenant – not because she had a wealth of theatre opportunities in college but rather because of the lack of opportunity. “The music and theatre I had been immersed in at Westminster suddenly dropped out of my life, and I missed it deeply,” she says. “It wasn’t because of the performances; I missed the beautiful process of collaborating, problem-solving, and working together on a giant project bigger than any of us! I quickly came to realize that theatre was my life’s passion. So I went off in search of it.”Read more about Mary Catherine
Mary Catherine says former Westminster theatre director Susan Hauser Maynor ’86 originally gave her the idea for a musical theatre camp for children, which she has been running since 2002, first in St. Louis and now in Chattanooga, in an effort to build performance technique and inspire interest in the arts.
For her senior project at Covenant, she directed the school’s first musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, having played Sally in the same show at Westminster in 2001 under the direction of Mrs. Maynor. “Westminster equipped me with experience and a set of tools I could suddenly pull out and use!” she says.
Since moving to Chattanooga for college, the city has been home. After graduation, she was hired to choreograph the musical at CCS and has worked there ever since. While at Covenant, Mary Catherine met her husband Jon. “He helped paint sets for my very first musical and has helped me get through non-stop directing from that point on,” she says. The two have been married nearly nine years and have two sons, Max (6) and Luke (4).
Mary Catherine’s parents – Jim Drexler (former Westminster head of upper school) and Sara Drexler (former Westminster leadership coordinator) live nearby but have spent recent years in Indonesia working to start a Christian teachers’ college there.
“I credit Westminster and my parents with every bit of inspiration and preparation for the job and life I lead now,” says Mary Catherine, who, at age 5, acted in Westminster’s production of The King and I under the direction of Betsy Tyvoll. “It was a formative experience for me, and I was looking for theatrical opportunities from then on,” she says. “Growing up around Westminster meant that I was very familiar with high school life; those big kids might as well have been celebrities to me! I used to sneak into musical rehearsal in the ‘old gym’ and watch Kathy Eichelberger or Betsy Tyvoll direct the students. My mom would help with productions, and I would tag along every chance I got. So even before I was a Westminster student, I had found my niche – the arts.”
Mary Catherine says she learned about music and theatre as well as how an art form can be used to build one another up from a few special teachers. “Kathy Eichelberger, Tim Wilds and Susan Maynor are my heroes,” she says. “They taught me about collaboration, excellence and devotion to your craft. They inspired me beyond what I could explain in words because I draw on what they taught me every day. They changed me,” she says, also expressing gratitude toward her parents, who enabled her to have these experiences and continually pushed her toward excellence. “The reason for all of this rigor was perpetually clear to me: we are created in the image of God; we enjoy creating things because we are like Him in that way; and the arts provide an excellent platform for beautiful creation, which we can give back to Him as an offering of praise.”
On a sweet note, Sara, Mary Catherine’s mom, taught and mentored Susan when she was a student at Westminster. “Mrs. Drexler was a huge part of my story growing up,” says Susan.
Reflecting on her teachers at Westminster, Mary Catherine says she hopes she can have a fraction of their impact on her own students. “It’s about relationship – finding potential in kids and building it up in them,” she says. “Nothing brings me greater joy than seeing a show thrive because students are placed in their perfect roles. Watching students excel in theatre at Westminster gave me great confidence in taking the bold steps I have taken at CCS.”