Journalism Next from Saint Stephen's Episcopal School, Bradenton: History teacher finds creative outlet in playwriting

Special to the HeraldOctober 22, 2012 

He is not just your average history teacher.

Mr. Bernie Yanelli, an Upper School history and economics teacher at Saint Stephen's Episcopal School, has been expressing his creative side for the past seven years outside of the classroom in writing and producing plays for the local community.

Coming from a background as an international businessman before becoming a teacher, Yanelli said he knew that he wanted to "change directions in (his) life" and felt playwriting would satisfy his need for some creativity.

Known throughout the Saint Stephen's community for his insightful understanding of historical topics, Yanelli said he wanted to direct his knowledge of history to explain conflict and issues in daily life.

"Writing plays helps me better understand the human condition and the nuances of the human condition -- what we are capable of, both good and bad," he said.

Yanelli said that over the past several years, Saint Stephen's drama teacher Preston Boyd has helped to inspire his fascination with the theater. If not for Boyd's help, Yanelli said, he would be nowhere in his playwriting.

Boyd is well known as a frequent director of community productions locally.

"(Boyd) has helped me a lot in just understanding the reality of the theater [because] he has such a great history in the theater," Yanelli said.

The feeling is mutual: Boyd said he has been fascinated by Yanelli's approach to playwriting; he has worked with his colleague on a variety of plays, from historical drama to comedy.

"(Yanelli) has found some interesting dramatic [ideas] in history … and has a gift in taking historical facts we take for granted and putting that drama onto the stage," Boyd said.

Yanelli agreed that the parallel of what is taught in the classroom and what is performed on stage often crosses over.

"One of my main goals has been to break down the wall between the theater and my classroom. [I have found] that there is an overlap of both teaching and writing. I try to see things in a different light from time to time

and that helps my writing," he said.

Most recently, Yanelli has written and produced several plays for the local community. He co-wrote with Boyd the 2010 Upper School fall play, "Put Me in, Coach," and has written two historical dramas, titled "Undaunted" and "Banished," which were performed at the Sarasota Players Theatre.

In these cases, Yanelli's desire to portray "families and individuals where there is great conflict in (their) lives," has been exemplified through an animated cast of characters and a web of historical facts intertwined throughout his plays.

"Put Me in, Coach was completely different (from his previous plays) and was a comedy. It is interesting to see the voices he uses (in his writing)," Boyd said.

The Saint Stephen's community has been a large part of Yanelli's success in theater, as students, parents and teachers enjoy the life that he injects into every carefully written line.

"I've been thrilled by the response from the Saint Stephen's community. It is a wonderful thing to be part of a community where people support each other. When I have students and parents at these plays, it helps me to affirm that," he said.

Senior Brian Elliott, who is very involved in the drama program at Saint Stephen's and even starred in Yanelli's "Put Me in, Coach," said he has enjoyed working with Yanelli on his acting.

"I have learned what goes into a play and what makes them comedic. I had learned a lot from my previous experience with "Put Me in, Coach," and I hope to continue to learn more from Mr. Yanelli (and the theater)," he said.

Yanelli said that any feedback he has received on his plays has been greatly accepted. "The feedback I have gotten from (students, parents and teachers) is constructive … I am still learning, though," he said.

So what's next for this teacher-turned-playwright? Yanelli explained how much he enjoys writing historical plays as it is his passion for teaching and zest for life that often inspires many of his plays; however, for now, he said he wants to take on a different direction.

"I'm writing a play called "Not Our Time" about botched desegregation in the 1960s, and that will be my last historical drama for a while. I feel like exploring new opportunities," he said.

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