- Durham Public Schools
Wendell Tabb: Visionary Educator to Take Final Bow
During his 35 years of teaching and directing theater at Hillside High School, Wendell Tabb has gifted his students and attendees with unforgettable messages and experiences through substantive, artful performances. When the Hillside High School drama department presents its final production of the year– starting on Thursday and through this weekend– the man whom most refer to as “Mr. Tabb” will take a final bow after 35 seasons and more than 100 plays.
Tabb has chosen Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters for his farewell production. His students will also present Why Mosquitoes Buzz, adapted from the book Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale. Both presentations are in observance of Read Across America month. He chose the African folktale about two king’s daughters, one who is nice and one who is mean, to illustrate the importance of kindness as his last gesture toward leaving the personal legacy he desires to be remembered.
“It is such a great story that teaches us valuable lessons of the importance of being kind. I wanted to do a performance that would show our young people that violence is not the way…that love and respect for each other is a positive character trait that they should strive for,” said Tabb. His objective as a teacher was to “teach students how to express themselves through creative movement, speech, language, and impersonation…This will prepare the student for life lessons of work and play.”
Superintendent Dr. Pascal Mubenga attests to the vision that Tabb espouses.
“Mr. Tabb’s productions were intentionally chosen, produced and directed to foster peace, social justice, kindness and character, leadership qualities he has sought to develop in all his students. I am grateful for his work on behalf of the hundreds of students who were privileged to learn and shine under his tutelage through the years,” said Dr. Pascal Mubenga, district superintendent.
In February 2019, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education approved renaming the Hillside Theatre to the John H. Gattis–Wendell Tabb Theatre. The stage was also named the Wendell Tabb Stage.
Tabb’s students have reciprocated by paying homage to his service wherever they land. His drama students have gone on to become Hollywood stars who’ve won Oscars and who continue to win bids at roles that have catapulted them to stardom. His high school students have performed and studied in Cuba; China; Australia; West Africa; Peru; Brazil; Japan; England; New York, and California. Their work has taken them to six of the world’s seven continents.
Tabb credits the community’s embrace for the exposure.
“Funding for our trips internationally and locally comes directly from the community. The students are always so eager to learn new things, explore the culture, even if they don’t always speak the same language,” said Tabb.
Tabb started the Celebrities in the Classroom program, inviting the likes of Hollywood A-lister Danny Glover, Oscar-nominated film director and Hillside alumnus Kevin Wilson, Jr.; Hillside alumnus and noted costume designer Pamela Ross; Hillside alumnus and fashion icon Andre Leon Talley; and April Parker Jones, Hillside alumnus and actress, to engage with his students about their life’s work. The program has hosted 25 celebrities to date. Tabb also has impacted thousands of students through the state of North Carolina’s Educational Matinee series that brings students together to watch live theatre.
For Hillside’s principal, Dr. William Logan, Tabb heralds passion and professionalism, both of which have benefited students over the years.
“Mr. Tabb’s retirement is bittersweet to say the least. He has certainly earned this wonderful milestone after committing 35 years to the service of children in Durham Public Schools, most of which have been spent at Hillside. Most people are not aware of the countless hours he has invested in making sure our students receive high quality learning experiences that prepares them for so many opportunities on the stage and behind the scenes in theater. Our students have performed on international stages in cultural exchanges across the globe. They have had the privilege of gleaning from celebrity talents like Starletta Dupois, Danny Glover, Antonio Fargas, Margaret Avery, Phylicia Rashad, just to name a few. Mr. Tabb has curated educational experiences that are undeniably impactful. Mr. Tabb’s legacy is an institution in the Durham community and cannot be replaced. His presence will be missed, but what he has created will live forever in the hearts and minds of many.”
Tabb’s interest in drama started when he was six years old, and his mother nurtured it. His parents were his biggest fans, he said. He was the child who imitated family members, providing entertainment at the dinner table and at family reunions. He then began reciting poetry and was invited to perform. It was after performing in a high school play that he decided he would pursue performing arts. But he got the teaching bug while student teaching and … “little did I know, my dreams would become so many of the students’ dreams. I wanted to help them reach their dreams through teaching them the art of theater,” said Tabb. “To me, the real stage is standing in front of students each and every day trying to bring out the best in them.”
Shows will run Friday, March 18 at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday, March 19 at 3:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday, March 20 at 3:15 p.m. Purchase tickets at www.seatyourself.biz/hillside. For more information, call the school at 919-560-3925 ext. 25240 or 919-906-0840.