Hillside High's drama director pushing students for greatness on stage while battling COVID-19

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a different kind of role for Hillside High School's legendary drama teacher. Wendell Tabb is playing the real-life patient -- quarantining at home four days after testing positive for COVID-19.

"I told my doctor, I said to my doctor, 'Are you sure? Are you sure it was positive? Take a look again,'" Tabb told ABC11 via Zoom.

Tabb says his symptoms are mild -- a cough and some sluggishness. And as he isolates himself from his family in the office above his garage, Tabb has taken no days off from his virtual teaching duties at Hillside in Durham.

"My teacher-friends, my students, and my wife all say I should take a couple days off," he said. "All of the text messages was like, 'Get some rest! Stop!'."

Stopping is not something Tabb does well, even in a pandemic. In the over 30 years at the helm of Hillside Drama, he's elevated it into a world-renowned program. Hollywood A-listers like Danny Glover answer his calls to visit and mentor. Tabb won Honorable Mention at the 2017 Tony Awards for his commitment to theater education. So, even while the Hillside stage that bears Tabb's name has been dark since last winter, he's still been pushing his young thespians.

"It was an opportunity for me to also take the kids outside and work on outdoor drama," Tabb said describing the school's current virtual rehearsal work for the play, Why Mosquitoes Buzz. "We're on Zoom every day!"

Tabb has been overseeing his 16-member cast of the show through daily two-hour rehearsals over Zoom and Flipgrid as the teenagers perfect their lines and song solos in hopes that Durham's school board signs off on a virtual, socially-distanced performance that is tentatively planned for February.

"When I say we're ready, (the students) are so hungry to get it done," Tabb said. "But they also understand the safety precautions that have to be in place."

Tabb is hoping to get the all-clear from his COVID-19 diagnosis in the next couple of weeks and pull off an outdoor performance of the play that will be filmed so fans can watch it over livestream before the spring.
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