Late teacher’s lessons still reverberate at arts festival

May 18, 2024

MIDDLEBORO — The essence of late drama teacher Dani Duggan could be felt through the halls at Middleboro High School during the second annual arts festival held in her name.

The Dani Duggan Arts Festival, which featured works from kindergarteners to high school seniors, was held on Saturday, May 18. The festival was organized by High School Drama Director Sam Mosher and Fine Arts Department Chair Justin Pittsley.

Dani Duggan served as a member of the Middleboro High School faculty for more than 24 years, where she worked as a drama teacher and was instrumental in the design of the Middleboro High School Performing Arts Center and Black Box theater. She died of cancer in 2022 at 56. 

The festival in her honor featured art forms of all kinds, from student art galleries to musical and theatrical performances to film screenings.

The high school choir performed “What I did for Love,” a song from the musical “A Chorus Line” about what it means to love what you do even in the face of loss. 

High school senior Lucy Teixeira, a former student of Duggan and member of the choir, said the song was a Duggan favorite.

“We’re just kind of all thinking about her. Everyone who knew her is kind of sad about [her passing] today and ‘What I did for Love’ is essentially our sentimentality,” said Teixeira. 

“That phrase and what it represents is huge for us. She’s kind of a constant presence,” she added.

Mosher said Duggan would have been proud of the day’s result. For Duggan, he said, “the mission was never ‘do one great show.’ The mission was ‘introduce as many kids as possible to the arts’ and that’s what this is. This is every grade across the district.” 

Nichols Middle School student Autumn Jean-Francois was introduced to theater in the third grade – and it changed her life, according to her mother Ashley Ferrini. 

Autumn was non-verbal up until first grade, said Ferrini. Now, she’s had lead roles, performed singing solos and has her sights set on Broadway.

At the festival, she performed a preview of the middle school’s adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” 

Regarding how far she’s come, Autumn said: “I’m very proud of myself.” 

Theater has helped her find her voice and now nothing will stop her, her mother said with a smile. She took a moment to thank Autumn’s theater teachers and the Burt Wood School of Performing Arts in Middleboro. “They helped her find who she is,” she said. 

Duggan understood the difference that the arts could make in one’s life. “Her vision was not ‘everyone has to go be on Broadway,’” Mosher said.

‘As long as you find something in art that helps you become a great person, express yourself and connect to some other human being,” that’s what mattered to her, he noted.