Hometown Heroes: For Jule Finley, all of Franklin is a stage

  • Jule Finley, curriculum coordinator for the Franklin School District and longtime theater program teacher and director, at the Franklin Opera House. Eileen O’Grady / Monitor staff

  • Jule Finley, curriculum coordinator for the Franklin School District and longtime theater program teacher and director, at the Franklin Opera House on May 24, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/30/2022 4:20:39 PM

Every time curriculum coordinator Jule Finley directs a new theatrical production with the Franklin School District, she buys a new Funko pop figurine that represents the show.

The figurine collection, arranged in boxes on shelves above the desk in her office, includes Dorothy and Toto from the time Franklin schools staged “The Wiz” in 2013, the Cat in the Hat from “Seussical” in 2018, Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” in 2017 and Elsa from “Frozen Jr.” in 2019, but they represent just a fraction of the shows Finley has staged at the high school and through the local community troupe.

Averaging nine shows a year for the past 28 years, Finley doesn’t have much time to rest. The first time she took a real break from the theater was when the pandemic hit in 2020, and it’s made her realize that it may be time to finally start slowing down and decluttering some of the costumes which she jokingly says has her attic on the verge of collapse.

“I do enjoy being busy. I’m really good at time management and multitasking,” Finley said. “COVID was the first time in like 35 years that I actually had to stop everything and it was very challenging for me. But I actually learned that if I gave myself a little time to breathe, it was nice to have.”

Finley started at Franklin High School in 1994 as an English and theater teacher, where she created the curriculum for two drama classes and founded the extracurricular theater program she still runs today. Finley, who went to college for theater and originally wanted to be a professional actor, started teaching due to practicality and stayed with it when she realized the impact she could have.

“The self-confidence that I see build in kids is huge,” Finley said. “I literally can watch kids grow from the time that they’re in elementary school until they graduate. Whether they continue to do anything in theater or not, the skills that they learn will last them forever.”

Before the pandemic, Finley would organize annual theater class trips to places like New York City, Washington D.C., Toronto and Virginia Beach to view Broadway shows, dinner theater and theme park performances, as a way of exposing the students to different career options in the performing arts. For many students, it was their first time leaving New Hampshire.

“The opportunities and memories that it makes for kids are huge,” Finley said. “These are things that kids will remember forever.”

For the last six years, Finley has been the curriculum coordinator in the SAU office, where she is responsible for overseeing the curriculum district-wide, and also overseeing the teacher evaluations, professional development programs and the teacher mentorship program. When her workday ends, she can be found at the Franklin Opera House three or four days a week, working on shows with students in the extracurricular theater program or adults in the community theater program.

In 1995 Finley launched the community theater group Franklin Footlight Theater, which has grown to be a non-profit organization with a board of directors that puts on three shows per year. Some of Finley’s favorite Footlight moments over the years include getting married to her husband Jack Finley while they were doing the show “Into the Woods” in 2004, playing the roles of the baker and the baker’s wife. She also enjoyed playing Donna in “Mamma Mia! The Musical” in 2019.

Finley also founded the Franklin Area Children’s Theater (FACT), a summer theater camp for kids in grades 1 to 8. This summer, campers will perform “The Rainbow Fish” in July, and Disney’s “The Lion King Experience Jr.” in August.

Finley has what she calls an “extreme amount of pride” for the town of Franklin and wants to increase appreciation for the arts in the community.

“I’ve held out hope for a long time that things were going to improve and get better, and I’m actually starting to see that,” Finley said. “It’s just refreshing to see that that awareness and appreciation for the arts is really starting to grow along with the other things that are growing in Franklin. I hope that continues.”

For Finley, theater in Franklin is a family affair – her oldest daughter received a theater degree from Plymouth State University and helps Finley with assistant directing and running the children’s summer theater sessions. Her youngest daughter minored in dance at Plymouth State and does choreography for the shows.

After so many years, Finley is feeling ready to take a step back from her involvement, saying she feels pride in the success of her theater programs, and isn’t afraid to relinquish control as she knows the organizations are stable enough to continue without her.

“To me it’s kind of like raising children, your best hope is that at some point they can just kind of go off on their own,” Finley said. “The goal was never for it to be mine, the goal was for it to really become a community theater program. And community theater is all about community, it’s about bringing people together and having fun together.”

Finley’s next production with Franklin Footlight Theater is the musical comedy “Something Rotten!” running July 29, 30, 31 and August 4, 5 and 6 at the Franklin Opera House. Tickets are available at (603) 934-1901 and www.franklinoperahouse.org.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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