When we learned that Kyle Woods passed away on December 22, 2016, unbeknown to each each other, my sister and I sat down and recorded our memories of one of our great heroes — starting with the first moment we met Mr. Woods. We called each other on the day of his funeral, both wishing we could have attended. We learned we both had written down memories and each spent the day going through our photo albums reflecting on our time with him. We are sharing our memories here jointly in case it brings some peace and laughter to his family and the many students who loved him.
Letting the Badger Out of the Bag
by Jenni (Nelson) Heywood
I walked into a small office at Gooding High School and the mysterious Mr. Woods was sitting behind a desk. It was his first year teaching at GHS and there was a buzz about this guy with long hair. I was a freshman and this was the first year that drama was to be offered as an elective at our school. A few of us freshmen had congregated in the office to scope things out: were we going to sign up for this class that no one could vouch for with the new guy? Mr. Woods was cracking jokes and his two daughters, Aubree and Danielle, were also sitting in the office. They all seemed to have this thing called “comic timing” down and we liked them immediately. I was slightly terrified about what I would be required to do, but I was drawn to the Woods family vibe so I signed up.
Being part of the theatre program was a huge stretch for me. I wasn’t particularly shy in high school, although there have been times in my life where I have been described as shy. This photograph from my preschool may be a small reveal of my internal conflict with attention.
I had no illusions that I would ever want a lead in a school play. But Mr. Woods was clever and seemed to observe each student and then craft a personal plan for them. I took his drama and speech classes throughout high school and was transformed. We were immature, quirky, and truly dorky teenagers. But he always treated us as if we each had some special talent inside that we had yet to discover, and once we let go of our inhibitions we could do anything we wanted. He had a saying that he would repeat over and over: “let the badger out of the bag!” For instance, we’d perform a scene in class, and then he’d stop us and say, “That was great. But this time I want you to let the badger out of the bag!” And so we’d try again. I am sure we looked like awkward teenagers trying to give a little more umph or passion to the words — but still lacked depth. The best though, was on the rare occasions when he would finally get up to demonstrate. He’d cooly transition from foot propped up on a chair with a notebook in hand and then walk across the floor in the auditorium and suddenly change characters as if someone had put a spell on him. Then we’d all clap and whistle at his masterful performance and try a little harder. Bless him for his patience working with his group of misfits.
As time grew on, our group became very close and Woodsy, as we called him, was our fearless leader. We took buses and stayed in hotels for district and state drama and speech competitions. We had some success at competitions and performed in school plays. We called ourselves the Dark Horse Productions because no one would expect great things from the team out of our tiny Idaho school. But like a stallion we might emerge in the dark and have a powerful presence. I’m sure that is an overstatement in our abilities, but that is how he described us.
On one occasion, I remember sitting in the library with a few other students when Woodsy came in and asked, “So are you all going to do the speech competition this year?” I whined and said I didn’t really have time to write an extra speech. He countered, “that’s okay, you can compete in impromptu speaking if you don’t want to prepare a speech.” I thought it might be easier and less time consuming than writing a speech so I agreed. What was I thinking? Impromptu speaking consisted of three rounds of speeches in which you draw a different topic for each round. You are given two minutes to prepare and then must deliver a coherent and moving speech on the fly to an audience and judges without the use of notes. There I was at this huge competition, a freshman competing with upper classmen. I knew nothing about current events or philosophy. I should have bolted, but I managed to make it through all three rounds despite my internal humiliation. But that was Woodsy — he was Godlike in this way. He might let you think that you were getting away with laziness, but he’d actually set up a harder path for you because he knew it would be a bigger challenge for you personally. I always felt like Woodsy knew exactly what he was doing when he got me into that impromptu speaking mess as a freshman. If I could deliver a speech under what to me were the most mortifying conditions — not having rehearsed or knowing the topic beforehand — then I could navigate nearly any other social or speaking situation that would ever come my way.
I have many memories where Mr. Woods really helped me “let the badger out of the bag.” When Woodsy would gives us this charge, I would imagine a wild badger frantically trying to escape and then leaping out of a gunny sack towards the audience. To do that you would really have to embody the role of your character. But my interest wasn’t in acting and so I thought perhaps this advice only partially applied. But Woodsy saw something else in me and continued to draw it out. I spent hours helping to build and design sets for our school productions. He encouraged me to enter my designs in the state theatre competitions. I remember after one competition I was a little frustrated because one of the judges interjected in the middle of my presentation and held up a red lighting gel from my scale model display and said, “you say this gel will turn the stage red, but when I hold up this gel it still looks grey to me.” She clearly had no lighting experience and didn’t buy into the main concept of my design, which was painting with light. Woodsy came and sat by me on the bus ride back to discuss my scores and the feedback from the judges. He gave me a hug and said I handled that judge like a champ during my presentation. He said he was proud of me because even though she didn’t know about the principles of light, I knew what I was talking about — “some people in this world are just going to see grey.”
I owe it to Woodsy for helping me embrace criticism and allow a new talent to emerge and pursue it as far as I could. In college I switched my major from English to Theatre and graduated with a degree for set design. I went on to design sets and props for films and television shows for a number of years until moving into documentary film. Even now as an artist, I receive regular criticism on my work. But it is part of the process of refining my art and making it better. I am grateful to have had a mentor so early on help me sift through what is important and keep a clear vision.
A few months ago, I started going through boxes of High School memorabilia. I tossed several play programs from High School. Now, after Mr. Woods passing, I wish I would have hung onto them a little longer. Perhaps they would have sparked a memory that I am forgetting. I did find a couple news clippings and a program that I still have in my possession. Here is his bio, which proves how much he cared for the students and the craft:
I remember Woodsy chanting at rehearsals, “ This is not a dress rehearsal. We are professionals and this is the big time!” He truly did prepare us for the big time: life. I never caught up with Woodsy after I graduated from High School. He left GHS a couple years later. I can’t quantify the impact he has had on my life, even laying the groundwork for my career. I wish I had the opportunity to tell him in person. Now with his passing I imagine him in heaven gathering together a bunch of misfit angels and getting them ready for the greatest Dark Horse Production of all time. We’ll miss you, Woodsy.
We’re All in Our Places…
by Amie (Nelson) Berry
This is not your Hollywood story about the overworked teacher who volunteers to teach math to inner city kids and changes their lives forever. If this was that story then my first grader would not be better at math than I am. Instead, this story is about a drama teacher who came to a small farming community and inspired students to be comfortable in their own skin. He taught these students life lessons that stayed with them even as they left the comforts of the small town and journeyed out into the real world.
I still remember the first day of drama class. It was a new elective being offered at the old Frahm Middle School in Gooding and since it was the only other elective besides band — that was not taught by my parents — I decided I needed to give it a try. I remember him walking into the classroom. He wrote his name on the board and told us we could call him Mr. Woods. He then proceeded to make us recite a song. When he said good morning we were supposed to say, “Good morning Mr. Woods, we are all in our places with bright shining faces.” He then instructed us to say it louder because not everyone was participating. The class began to look at each other feeling somewhat uncomfortable and trying to decide if he was serious or not. “Let’s try this again,” he said. “When I say good morning, you say?” This time we said it again, only a little louder and with more enthusiasm.
The rest of class time I sat at my desk trying to figure this stranger out. He was different than all the other teachers. I had imagined our drama teacher would look like a suave New Yorker with a passion for the theater and overly dramatic. Instead of the fine threads I had imagined, he wore a tweed blazer with suede elbow patches and old jeans. He was very sarcastic and many times you could not discern between his BS and the truth. Unlike other teachers, he could make you laugh and talk to you like a friend and at the same time you respected him as an authority figure and a professional. After that day, I decided to stick with him and took his class for the next six years.
The following years, as I moved from middle school to high school, were filled with memories and life events that helped shape me as a person. Some of my most favorite memories were spent in the classroom or on the stage with Mr. Woods or “Woodsy” as we came to call him. Being part of his class gave students opportunities they would not normally have. I spent most of my high school years dedicated to sports, but never went to state in any of them. But being involved in drama allowed me to go to a state competition twice. Drama gave kids a chance to excel in other areas — you did not have to be the best athlete, the best student or even the best actor to find a niche you were good at. From speech to scenic design, many students discovered a talent they didn’t even know they had.
In high school being part of a specific group usually comes with stereotypes and labels. One might think that a drama nerd is a dedicated thespian who often recites Shakespeare or dresses as a mime. With Mr. Woods’ drama students this was not the case. His students ranged from jocks to nerds, from the shy to the extroverted, from the skilled shop students to the dedicated Future Farmers of America. I had never been part of a group that included students from so many different backgrounds. Mr. Woods had the talent of bringing all of us together and making us feel a part of something. We had our secret jokes, funny stories and slightly inappropriate gestures. He saw us all the same and so we saw each other in the same way. He brought us together through his humor. We formed friendships through projects we worked on, whether we were painting a set, acting together or in charge of costumes and makeup.
Looking back on those years spent in Woodsy’s class I realize just how much I learned and how much of it I actually use in my daily life. (So suck it stupid algebra!) In the past years, I have used my knowledge of scenic design to help my daughter create a diorama for her book report. My limited knowledge of costumes & makeup has come in handy practically every Halloween. The skills I learned in speech class, like how to BS and think on the fly, has proved useful many times throughout my life. For example, the time I forgot a college assignment was due and was able to talk my professor into giving me an extension or the everyday tales I spin for my children — like who actually ate their Halloween candy and where the goldfish goes when we flush it down the toilet. “The sea, they go back to the sea to be with their family.” Even my brief experimentation with mime has been beneficial, especially when trying to get my 4 year old to stop picking her nose during a church performance, a preschool graduation or a dance performance. (She is going through a phase.)
With the passing of Mr. Woods, I am reminded of a great mentor and friend. I am reminded of a teacher that dedicated himself to his family and his students and spent countless hours helping them. There is a special place in heaven for someone dedicated to helping teach middle schoolers the art of mime. I am grateful for the life lessons he taught us, like learning to laugh at ourselves and not take life too seriously. Once, during a play practice as he was climbing onto the stage there was a loud ripping sound and he had torn the whole backside of his pants. Instead of being embarrassed he laughed it off and fixed it with duct tape. It was that sense of humor and attitude towards life that made me appreciate him and grateful for his example. I am so thankful for Mr. Woods and the impact he has made on the lives of his students. I am grateful for the memories and opportunities he gave us. But I a most grateful for the drama teacher that decided to come teach in the small farming community all those years ago.