The late great Ernie Banks, a Hall of Fame baseball player, once said, “the measure of a man is in the lives he’s touched.” If that’s true, then Daniel Seaman must be one of the most successful men in Heaven. He was a devoted husband and loving father. He was a loyal friend and confidant. He was a musician, a craftsman, and an award-winning theatre director. And to thousands of high school drama students (dozens of who went on to become teachers), he was an innovative educator who they affectionately called “Sea.” Dan passed away last December. He was 69.
I first met Dan when he was a graduate assistant at UNCG in what was then called the Speech/Communications department. Under his tutelage, I learned the art of debate and honed my public speaking skills. More importantly, we formed a friendship that would last for nearly 50 years. By the time I graduated, Dan was already making a name for himself as a think-outside-the-box drama instructor at Dudley High School in Greensboro. He mentored and nurtured his students, most of who had never set foot on a stage, and then took them to State and regional competitions, where they excelled in ensemble theatre. Dan’s next challenge was to help shape the drama program at Weaver Academy and inspire a whole new generation of theatre actors, directors, and technicians. Over the course of his career, Dan’s students won the North Carolina Theatre Conference’s prestigious “Outstanding Achievement in Ensemble Theatre” award an unprecedented 16 times. It’s no surprise, then, that when Dan retired from teaching high school drama, the NCTC Board renamed its highest award in his honor.
Dan, of course, never really retired. In his “senior” years, he served as an adjunct professor at Greensboro College, an instructor at UNCG, and directed countless community theatre plays in Greensboro, High Point, and Kernersville. Along the way, he and his wife Marion (an accomplished costume designer) had raised two kids and were well known in craft circles for their beautiful stain glasswork. And there’s something else. Dan’s students loved him, and they loved to keep in touch with him. They also never forgot what he did for them and for so many other kids. That’s why earlier this year, some of his former students got together to establish an endowment for the Daniel Seaman Award for Outstanding Achievement in Ensemble Theatre. I recently spoke with Marion about the project.
JL: Tell me about the endowment.
MS: Every year, a secondary educator wins the NCTC top prize in the Ensemble category. But there was never a monetary award connected to the honor. So Dan’s friend Keith Martin, an advocate for NCTC, suggested that many of the students whose lives Dan had touched might want to create an endowment to be given to the winning troupe each year. The funds would allow them to move on to the next level and compete at the Southeastern Theatre Conference.
JL: How does the award and endowment reflect Dan’s career and legacy, and the commitment he had to his students?
MS: Dan was a lifelong educator. This wasn’t a second career or second choice for him. It was a passion. He felt that theatre provided a community for teenagers in which they could express themselves in a safe environment, have a chance to learn, and share new ideas.
His shows were most often ensemble productions, so he wanted his community of actors to win the Best Ensemble Award as an affirmation of their work and as a result of working together for a common goal.
Today, many of Dan’s former students are still working together, this time to raise enough money to match a recent challenge grant that would fund the endowment in perpetuity. Tax-deductible donations can be made at www.nctc.org/donate/ensemble.
JL: What would Dan think of having an endowment named for him?
MS: He would be overwhelmed at the outpouring of affection and fond memories that have accompanied the donations from so many of his students and their parents. Dan was doing what he loved with every show that he directed, and he would be touched to be on the receiving end of such “Love and Laughter.”
By the way, “Love and Laughter” is the phrase that Dan used every time he signed his name. They’re also the two things he gave to everyone who knew him.