Mentor Spotlight: Meet Ian Bannon

In this special blog post, we turn our spotlight toward one of ArtStream’s exceptional volunteers whose story not only inspires but also exemplifies the incredible power of human kindness. In chatting with Ian, we are reminded that acts of goodwill, no matter how small, have the potential to ripple across communities, leaving a lasting impact that extends far beyond the initial act.

Ian began as a mentor at ArtStream in 2017. He is a Senior Docent at the Folger Shakespeare Library and works in various Folger education programs, including Shakespeare School Festivals, Shakespeare Family Programs, and Shakespeare-in-Action Workshops. He received the 2019 Scottish Rite – Valley of Washington’s Knights of St. Andrew Outstanding Community Service Award for his work at ArtStream.

We had the opportunity to chat with Ian to learn more about his work at ArtStream.

ArtStream: Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and how did you get involved with ArtStream?

Ian: I came to DC from Australia in 1980 to work in international development. I retired in 2016 and joined ArtStream as a mentor in September 2017.

ArtStream: How did you first get involved in theatre?

Ian: After retirement, I became a Docent at the Folger Shakespeare Library. In addition to normal museum stuff (tours, pointing to the restrooms, answering questions) I led Shakespeare workshops for area schools using Folger’s Elizabethan stage to perform. I also got involved in school festivals, adapting plays, family programs and working with DC public schools. So it was really a theatre-adjacent involvement and focused on Shakespeare.

ArtStream: Why did you decide to become a mentor?

Ian: At the Folger, I volunteered to lead a 90-minute workshop for a class of special needs (IDD) students. I found it challenging but incredibly rewarding, so when I saw that ArtStream was looking for mentors, I eagerly applied.

ArtStream: What do you feel is most important to share/offer your students?

Ian: “Yes, you can!” pretty much summarizes it for me. Most of our students are often told the things they cannot do. At ArtStream we prove to them they can get up on a stage in front of a paying audience, succeed and have fun. When they can do this they know they can face any challenge.

ArtStream: What is something the ArtStreamers would be surprised to find out about you?

Ian: A few things: I am an economist by training, had never stepped on stage before ArtStream and, perhaps more revealing, I am an introvert and very shy.

ArtStream: What advice would you offer to someone who is nervous to perform on stage?

Ian: Speaking from experience, its okay to be nervous and scared. Ignore the audience, pretend they are not there and concentrate on the part you are playing, and the interactions with fellow actors. If you make a mistake, don’t stop or try to fix it, keep on going…nobody in the audience noticed. Above all, have fun.

ArtStream: Please share an example of something that happened at ArtStream that really inspired you.

Ian: We had a very good dancer in one of our Cabarets, who’s cool moves had made him an audience favorite. The Director decided to challenge him by asking him to do the Macbeth speech “Tomorrow and tomorrow…” which happens to be my favorite and one that I too often see professional actors not get quite right. It took some convincing but then it was touch-and-go until tech whether he could pull it off. We take great care to never put our actors in a position where they are likely to fail. So off we went. When the guard entered to tell Macbeth the Queen has died, our actor had his back to the audience and as he turned to start the speech we could hear muffled giggles, as many in the audience expected the scene to turn into a comic skit or a series of fancy dance moves. When the speech ended, there was a stunned silence for a few seconds before the audience exploded into applause and cheers. It is hard to put into words what my colleagues and I felt at that moment.

ArtStream: What kinds of changes have you seen ArtStream students make in classes and rehearsals?

Ian: Their growth in confidence and performing skills is an obvious one. I remember a new actor rehearsing in front of a mic, looking down at her shoes and having trouble raising her voice above a whisper. At our last show she strode confidently to the mic and sang a lovely song all the while engaging with the audience—she killed it. More unexpected for me though was watching actors develop their improv skills. At the IDD Folger workshop the teachers had warned me that students felt uncomfortable with uncertainty; it confused them. I assumed improv would not be good idea given its inherent chaos and unpredictability. Boy, was I wrong—most of our actors not only learn over time to do improv but they are often very funny and creative.

ArtStream: What is your favorite play or musical?

Ian: I am a Shakespeare nerd so it would have to be his masterpiece, Hamlet. What a monster of a play with layers of complexity and unbelievable language! (As in the old joke about a little old lady that saw Hamlet for the first time and when asked if she enjoyed it she replied that she liked it but it had too many cliches.) I tend to reread Hamlet every couple of years and I always find things I hadn’t noticed before and marvel anew.

ArtStream: If you could create a new play or musical about anything, what would it be?

Ian: Hey, a bit meta, but why not a play about a place like ArtStream? There’d be lots of parts for students, TAs, mentors and even parents, and plenty of places to break into song and dance. Just saying…