TUSCUMBIA — Darren Butler appreciates artistic talent and he's done so in the Shoals area for nearly 30 years.
For the past 21 of those years, he's worked with what he describes as "some of the finest actors anywhere" as director of "The Miracle Worker" play at the amphitheater on the grounds of Helen Keller's Tuscumbia birthplace, Ivy Green.
After the long-running William Gibson play comes to an end for this summer on July 13, Butler and his family will move to Orange Beach where he has accepted a position with the school system.
He will be director of the conservatory of fine arts for Orange Beach middle school and high school, two new facilities under construction now. He will be teaching grades seventh through 12th, building a theater program and teaching acting technique, his passion.
Butler formerly owned the Back Stage Theater Company in Decatur where he worked with aspiring actors for several years. For the past decade, he's lived in Florence.
"It's hard to leave the Shoals area and I'm going to dearly miss my involvement with theater here and the wonderful people and I'm certainly going to miss Florence schools," said Butler, who for the past three years has taught at Hibbett and Florence middle schools as well as Florence High School.
Butler has recently completed his Master of Fine Arts degree, with a specialty in writing for stage and screen.
"Writing is my first love and always will be," he said.
Butler's career was largely focused on writing for many years as he worked as a consultant for school systems around the state teaching teachers how to teach the writing process. Much of the concentration prior to 2010 was on the state's writing assessment until it was phased out that year.
Though he'd always been involved to some degree with theater, his focus in the Shoals grew even sharper after 2010.
He'd been directing shows even before "The Miracle Worker," often at The Ritz in Sheffield.
He's directed many children's shows and has acted in theater productions of "A Christmas Carol," "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and "Charlotte's Web."
But it's his connection to "The Miracle Worker" that took root in him nearly three decades ago when he began attending the play in the early 1990s while David Hope was directing.
Butler watched, listened and learned, admittedly soaking up every aspect of the production, becoming friends with Gibson, who later critiqued the show in Butler's early years of directing it.
When Hope retired from directing the production in 1998 after 20 years, it was Butler's turn. Butler had been Hope's stage manager.
"I looked at it as a gift," Butler said. "It's rare for a director to get to do a play on the grounds where it really happened. Here, people don't come to just watch a play, they come as a pilgrimage, to honor Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. This play needs to be better at the birthplace than anywhere else in the world and that's always been the goal."
His association with the production has had a profound effect on Butler. "Anne and Helen are part of who I am."
Hope said Butler's tenure as director has meant a great deal to Ivy Green and the play.
"It's a production that benefits greatly from continuity and to have him (directing) that long has been of great benefit," Hope said. "He also did a lot for Florence High School and the theater department last year. You simply can't do this job, this business without loving what you do because it's tough. Darren cared for young people and did a great job. This area will miss him greatly."