From the Theater to the Classroom: Mrs. Sousa Takes Center Stage

William Kennedy, Staff Writer

You may know Mrs. Sousa as one of Ramsey’s English teachers, but what you may not know is that she once graced the stage in Manhattan as well as performing in a comedic group.
She loved stand-up comedy all her life and always had dreamed of working in New York City. Her first experience in stand-up comedy was in 7th grade; she presented a ‘How I spent my summer’ show for her classmates. When she gave her performance, the class erupted in hilarity. “I realized that I was funny, but I didn’t know that before. My little brother laughed at my jokes, but he was my little brother; he would laugh at anything I said. My parents didn’t think I was funny. they mostly said to stop doing that; to stop trying to be funny. stuff like that. I was funny, but I didn’t realize it until my classmates laughed at my comical speech.”
At the same time, Mrs. Sousa found her interest in education while in grade school when she pretended to be a teacher. She would help imaginary students with simple grammatical structures and mimic taking attendance daily.

Photo courtsey of John Milligan

Her childhood experience led to two future possible careers paths, as she graduated college with a degree in English and a drama minor. She opted to attempt to accomplish her dream of working in NYC as an actress. Because of her extraordinary communication and acting skills, a group called Zoom’in Humans, which focused on parody, quickly took her in.  She, with a comedic partner, performed in daily shows, including one where she pretended to be an awful bank teller while ironically outsmarting her manager in the end of the skit.
Despite doing what she loved, comedy had its challenges. Mrs. Sousa implied that it wasn’t easy being a female performer in the 80’s – 90’s. “It was hard to be a female stand-up comic. [In the group] there were only one or two other women who did it.”
As for acting, Mrs. Sousa performed in a number of off-Broadway shows including the Wizard of Oz (as the Wicked Witch of the West). She said with a laugh, “No one was casting me as Dorothy”. Additionally, she performed in early cold reads for the popular Disney animated film, Aladdin. As a result her dream of working in NYC became a reality, she explained, “That’s what makes New York so exciting. It’s that new things are happening there, and people are always traveling to visit. Writers, directors, actors; they all are going there to try to find a good product.”
Mrs. Sousa recalled working at a downtown club called the Cafe Wha where famous musicians such as Bob Dylan frequently performed. While working there, she was paid $75 a week which Sousa said was “OK, for a while when you’re single, and when you’re living in a studio apartment like I was at the time. I made 75 dollars a week and I still survived. But after a while I simply couldn’t anymore.” However when working at the Cafe Wha, comedy became more about making ends meet than about doing what she loved. This was when Mrs. Sousa realized it was time to move on. As she noted, “It became less appealing to me. I didn’t like some of the people that were involved. I didn’t like sometimes how I felt about a performance. It was such a nerve racking experience, and I started to think ‘why am I doing this to myself?’ It didn’t seem like fun or worth it anymore.”
Mrs. Sousa then entered a new chapter in life as a teacher. While she may not miss the struggles of her comedic career today, Mrs. Sousa does seem to miss one aspect. “As a former comedian,” she jokingly said, “I didn’t have to get up so early! I have to get up at the crack of dawn because school starts at 8am! When you’re working as an actor, you don’t have to get there until 1pm. [As a comedian], you’re going to go on at 8pm, so you get there at 6pm. Not like here, you better be there when the bell rings, or you’ll have 30 kids looking for you.”
As the former adviser to Opus, she was able to plug in the creative aspects of her background to help students find their own expressions. Invoking the words of Christa McAuliffe, Sousa said, “I teach.  I touch the future,” further explaining, “I felt I could give everything I had to some kids who then take it further, and I could say ‘I did some of that, I made that happen.’ That’s really a lot of fun for me.”