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Little-known facts about people are interesting. Molly Rice, teacher, poet, author, actor, wife and mother owned five ferrets while she was in college and until she moved to Ireland. They were named Boogie, Scutch, Wikki, Hoss and Baloo.
“I was a strong member of the American Ferret Association,” Rice laughed.
As a fluke in junior high school, Rice, who never acted on stage before, auditioned for “The Glass Menagerie” and landed the part of Laura. Her grandmother and mother came to all the performances and after each one, always told her how proud they were of her.
After some admitted dark times at a very young age, Rice moved in with her grandparents when she was 15. She grew up in a life filled with grief, poverty, poor choices, child abuse and the death of her mother, brother and aunts and uncles.
“My grandparents have been the biggest influence in my life,” Rice said. “Their support and loving-kindness shaped me and encouraged me to find my calling in the arts.”
After her stage debut as Laura in “The Glass Menagerie,” there was no looking back, and a strong future in the arts began to form and blossom. Rice’s high school choral director actually put Rice in her car and drove her to Mars Hill College and said, “You will go to school here.” Rice was the first person in her family to go to college.
“I had some amazing directors at Mars Hill College, especially with the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre connection,” she said. “As an actor, I was in several plays in lead roles,” she said. “As an improviser in college, I was the only female player in the professional touring comedy troupe ‘Half-Past Funny.’”
Rice also worked as a production assistant and an extra on the Warner Brothers movie, “My Fellow Americans.” While on the shoot, she met legends Jack Lemon and James Garner. Rice graduated from Mars Hill College with a degree in theatre education (K-12) with an English minor. She also completed specialized study in ESL from Lenoir-Rhyne College.
As an ESL teacher, theatre teacher-director and poet, Rice held residencies in 19 different schools and organizations in Catawba, Madison and Buncombe counties. After teaching and holding residencies at Upward Bound, Mars Hill and Asheville Middle School, Rice moved to Catawba County and held positions at many of the county’s middle and elementary schools, Catawba Valley Community College and Duke University.
And, then, she fell in love with Irish poet Adrian Rice, who came to Hickory on a U.S./Ireland exchange bursary in October 1999. He was supervised by Rand Brandes, the Martin Luther Stevens Professor of English at Lenoir-Rhyne University.
“I was the education director at Hickory Community Theatre,” she said. “Charles Jeffers and I decided to bring the Irish poet in to work with my actors and to give a reading at the theatre. “We fell in love immediately and shared a month together before Adrian returned to Belfast,” she said.
They were miserable without each other, so Molly decided to move to Ireland at the end of the school year in June.
“I moved in 1999 and didn’t return until 2004.” she said.
Rice, who’d never been out of the country, soaked up every moment of her new cultural experience and started her freelance career as a dramatist, poet, educator and director.
“I was amazed how well-supported the arts were in the community, schools, colleges and in verbal arts centers,” she said. “Before I left Northern Ireland, Adrian and I were so busy. “Sometimes we taught in four different schools a day, and we actually turned down work,” she said.
Rice fell in love with Ireland, even though it took some time to get used to the weather.
“I felt like a mushroom — dark, cold and wet,” she laughed. “Ultimately, my peace work with drama and poetry was very fulfilling.”
Currently, she teaches theatre arts at St. Stephens High School and is editor of the literary magazine “Indian Ink.” She formed Tractor Shed Theatre at St. Stephens, which involves writers, singers and actors. Rice initiated a collaborative art and theatre project with her auditioned classes in play production and students in the visual arts. The result was a magazine-style book, art display and performance called “Art Speaks.” The artists and actors worked closely together in dialogue as partners. Shortly after “Art Speaks” was launched in November 2009, Rice and her students began another project.
“The Play Production class wanted to really make a difference in our community,” Rice said. “So, we devised a project called ‘Reach Out.’”
The class of 23 students divided into four groups. Their task was to fully produce a play based on a chosen local charity. The students created a list of local charities, narrowed that list down to their top five choices, chose a charity to “adopt” and contacted the charity about possible collaboration. The result debuts Saturday, Dec. 4, with a total of five performances that run through Dec. 11 in various locations. Although Rice hasn’t mentioned forthcoming projects, there’s a solid chance no grass grows under this colleen’s feet. After all, she is part Irish and married to an Irishman.
For now, though, she oversees the productions of “Reach Out,” prepares for another semester and spends time with her husband and their son, Micah. A first-time mother at 39, she thrives on motherhood and gains inspiration and drive to be the best she can be in the classroom, in her art, in community and her home.
“I’ve never been happier with my life,” she said. “I want to live the rest of my days with my wonderful like-minded husband, Adrian Rice, and 9-month-old Micah Wayne Freeman Rice where ever God puts us next.”