ST. CHARLES – Actor and playwright Elliot Baker credits his English teachers and the drama department at St. Charles North High School for helping him realize that he could have a career in the theatre world.
Baker, a 2009 St. Charles North graduate, reunited with his former teachers during a visit to the school on April 4. The visit included dropping by a class being taught by one of his former English teachers, Shannon Von Essen.
To the delight of Von Essen, he imparted some of his knowledge on her students.
"One of the biggest things that I've learned over the years is that if I can find other people to teach things that I'm not an expert at, why would I not do that," she said. "He spoke to my creative writing class as well about becoming a writer and how you can make a living writing. It's really powerful for kids to see that people can make a living in the arts."
Baker is originally from England and grew up in South Elgin, where his parents still live. He spoke to students in Von Essen's English class about the elements that go into writing a play.
"We don't start a story on the day that everything is as it always has been and this is just how it is," he said. "Because that's not interesting. It's called 'Stranger Things,' right? It's not called 'Normal Things.' It's the day the weird thing happened. With teen dramas, it's always the day like the new kid comes into the classroom. It's always the day that's out of the ordinary."
One of his plays, "A Comic Book Ending," was based on his experiences as a Haines Middle School student. Baker told the students to carefully consider the objects they place in the play's setting.
"There's a theory in dramatic writing called 'Chekhov's Gun,' Baker said. "Basically, what Anton Chekhov – a great playwright – said was if you have a gun on the wall of your set, it needs to go off at some point in the play. If you've made a choice for something to be there, it's not just there for us to look at. It's there because it has a reason. So as you're thinking of your set, you want to think about what's in it and why. Always be asking yourself that same question of why. Why is this play taking place where it is and why is what's in the set there?"
St. Charles North High School junior Daniel Baldassano said he found Baker's tips to be helpful.
"I've been playing volleyball and sports my entire life, but I kind of want to try maybe doing something a little bit different," he said. "I want to try doing like a play. Doing a play would be a lot of fun for me. He gave me a great basis of how to write a play and how to think about it."