Letter: Mr. Wayne Hansen’s AHS Theatre legacy and naming the new auditorium


Courtesy of Jami Simon

Ames High’s beloved former long-time Drama Director Wayne “Hank” Hansen died Sept. 25, 2020, at age 80.

Jami Simon

Ames High’s beloved former long-time Drama Director Wayne “Hank” Hansen died Sept. 25, 2020, at age 80.

Hundreds of AHS students urge the Ames Community School Board to name the new AHS Auditorium for him. His 3+ decades of dedicated teaching and directing AHS Drama students attest to how much he deserves this.

First auditions in high school can be nerve-wracking, but Mr. Hansen put us completely at ease. From the moment we walked into our first rehearsal, we knew how special Hank was.

Our eight-week rehearsal schedule (six weeks for plays) was given to us on the first day of each fall, winter and spring production. We also participated in crews (makeup, props, scenery, publicity, costumes, lighting and sound) and every show had a student (assistant) director. Rehearsals were mesmerizing. With the magic of tech and dress rehearsals and three performances, we were hooked.

Drama Activities class taught us how to prepare a prompt book (with stage directions and cues), plus design scenery and costumes. We presented a radio Christmas play and Reader’s Theatre for other students.

The AHS Summer Theatre was the only one of its kind in the Midwest. We did four shows in five weeks, with rotating rehearsal schedules and no scrimping on any production aspect. We were there morning, noon and night to rehearse and work, joking, “Say goodbye to your family for five weeks!” One summer, we even got to watch Hank rehearse and perform in one of our shows. He truly went above and beyond in directing not only during the school year but each summer.

Theatre Arts class was another opportunity to learn how to prepare a show from start to finish, rehearsing songs and scenes, and doing the crew work to present our show onstage before an audience.

After Drama students devoted many hours of work, we were inducted into the International Thespian Society, the Theatre Honorary, whose motto, “Act well your part, there all the honor lies,” exemplified Mr. Hansen’s inspiration and expectations of us.

We worked hard to fulfill that motto, proud of that asterisk after our name in the program that signified our membership. This philosophy became infused in our future careers in all disciplines.

In the fall of our senior year, Ames High hosted the state Thespian conference. We wound up the day with a repeat of a summer play; Hank said this would be our toughest audience, but we got a standing ovation! A wonderful reflection on the quality of Hank’s teaching and directing.

The Senior-Directed One-Acts happened each spring, where we could choose our own play and were totally responsible for pulling all the production values together.

Mr. Hansen incorporated many educational and historical aspects into our productions, including performing as a Greek chorus, walking on a 45-degree raked stage, making masks of our own faces, special effects and producing a wide variety of plays and musicals.

My theatre professors at Iowa State revered Mr. Hansen, and he had ties to the renowned Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. When I took a Shakespeare class in grad school, the professor was teaching concepts we’d learned as AHS sophomores from Hank.

I moved to NYC after grad school to pursue acting; Hank’s teachings serve me well to this day. He held everyone to a high level of professionalism. We appreciated what he taught us then and even more now. He was our incredibly talented leader. We adored and were awed by him.

Former students and colleagues of Mr. Hansen tried to put into words all that he meant to them as a director, teacher and mentor:

“He inspired me to greater heights than I knew I had. He helped me hone my sense of self-confidence, professionalism, calculated risk-taking, detail-orientation, duty to those I work with and a longing to bring to life for an audience the written word…I don’t remember any discussions of ‘Can we accomplish this?’, but rather, ‘What comes next?'”

– John Couture (’76)

“We were getting into the guts of an artist’s vision and bringing it to public consciousness, doing art, and doing it well. Hank was an educator in the original sense of the word: one who draws out. He pulled out from his students what we did not even know we had in us…”

– Julia Tipton Rendon (’76)

“Wayne Hansen was a dedicated teacher who was known and beloved by all students in theatre; he left a lasting impression. Hank had a wonderful sense of humor, and clearly loved working with his students…”

– Jennifer Roberts (’74)

“Hank always did his best to give everyone responsibilities, to welcome our input on all aspects of a production and to help his actors shine onstage. I’ve never had a director, teacher or mentor who was more respected, loved and admired than Hank.”

– Brian Jenkins (’76)

“Hank harnessed our energy, love and time, and pointed us at greater collaborative achievements than any of us could have believed possible on our own…The plays gave us imaginative access to places, times and people vastly beyond the limits of Ames…”

– Kate Shakeshaft Murray (’76)

“Teachers must love, respect, honor, trust and challenge their students. Teachers must have boundless energy and patience and must have deep knowledge of their subject and strong professional skills. Wayne Hansen had all of these.”

– Dr. Bryan McCoy (’76)

“His ability to create stunning and powerful productions was nothing shy of magical. What an incredibly unique, safe and inspirational environment Hank created for many of us to find ourselves and passions.”

– Karin Paulsen (’81)

“We created quality productions and learned valuable skills – teamwork, public speaking, self-confidence, cooperation and appreciation for classical works. Mr. Hansen built the theatre program; he required us to do our best work and celebrated with us when we succeeded.”

– Deb Gass (’75)

“Wayne Hansen was a great friend and actor, and he was an outstanding teacher and director at Ames High. Wayne was one of those special friends.”

– Rosella Blunk (Theatre Director)

“Wayne Hansen was one of the most remarkable theatre champions I knew. He realized that performing arts were essential to our way of life. He saw theatre as a builder of greatness in all of us. It shows us who we are and who we can become. Wayne Hansen touched everyone with that dynamic spirit.”

– Tom Atha (Theatre Colleague)

A petition on change.org has 1,420+ signatures supporting the naming of the new auditorium to honor Mr. Hansen’s legacy of contributions to the education and lives of AHS students; please sign.

For all of these reasons and those of 3+ decades of drama alums, the AHS Auditorium should be named for Wayne “Hank” Hansen. He is still very much missed.

– Jami Simon (B.A., Theatre, B.S., Dance, ’81)