Tough act to follow: Orland teacher has movie role

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Gary Gow, a local actor who is a regular in local filmmaker Robert Alaniz's movies, poses at Jerling Junior High School, where he is a teacher, in Orland Park, IL, on Monday, February 4, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

‘You Don’t Say!’

The Robert Alaniz film will be screened at 7 and 9:30 p.m. March 7 at Marcus Theatres, 16350 S. LaGrange Road, Orland Park. Tickets are $20 and no tickets will be sold at the theater.

Tickets are available online at or at Blissful Banana Cafe, 15441 S. 94th Ave., Orland Park.

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Gary Gow, 50, is a modern Renaissance man.

The science teacher at Jerling Junior High School in Orland Park has degrees in animal science and education — pretty right-brained stuff — but he doesn’t allow his analytical side to rule. He indulges his creative side, too.

Gow just completed his sixth movie, “You Don’t Say!” with local award-winning writer-director Robert Alaniz.

Gow’s role as the male lead, Jerry Brownwell, was “a bit of a stretch for me,” he said.

“He’s kind of a laid-back artistic type who just says what’s on his mind. It’s just a fun movie,” he said.

Gow has been working in Alaniz’s movies for the last 10 years and has Hollywood credits in the Vince Vaughn movie, “The Dilemma,” and “The Merry Gentleman” directed by Michael Keaton.

Gow also has appeared in national television productions on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and with Bill Kurtis Productions.

Acting wasn’t something he pursued, Gow said. He just happened to be the right size at the right time.

When he entered class the first day of freshman English at Reavis High School in Burbank, Gow said, he wasn’t aware that his teacher, Bill Wadington, was looking for a short male to “pull off a little kid” in the fall play.

“I was barely 5 feet tall in thick socks,” Gow said. “I hadn’t got my growth spurt yet.”

Gow said Wadington took one look at him and said, “Kid, I’m going to make you a star.”

Gow went on to land a role in every school play for the next four years and “just really loved the experience,” he said.

As an adult, he became involved in community theater during his graduate years at Southern Illinois University and with the Palos Village Players when he moved back to the Chicago area to earn a degree in education from Governors State University.

After working for several years managing horse farms, Gow’s practical side led him to a career in teaching.

“When your job is horses, it’s 24/7, but I had too many other interests,” Gow said. “It couldn’t be all that.”

Gow found a way to combine all of his interests and still have a life.

His free time is spent at his home in Homer Glen with his wife, Susan, a dance teacher, and their “child,” a 4-year-old yellow lab named Finnegan who gets two one-hour walks a day.

Gow admits he doesn’t have much free time, but he likes it that way.

During his 17-year teaching career in Orland Park, he has taken on the role of director, adding it to that of science teacher, boys softball coach, and sixth-grade team leader. Gow said he was “recruited and groomed” by Jerling Junior High drama coach and English teacher Jan Tomecek when he was first hired.

Gow said that after Tomecek retired, he didn’t have the confidence to tackle her ambitious musicals, but, over time and with the help of co-worker Colleen Joyce, “We’ve really built up a reputation for ourselves.”

This year’s musical, “Bugsy Malone Jr.,” will showcase the talents of about 110 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students as cast and crew members in four separate performances, a hectic schedule for Gow and his current co-director, Melissa Bessler.

But Gow loves working with the kids — in and out of the classroom.

“The junior high level, I just really enjoy,” Gow said.

As for his own acting talents, “It’s a hobby,” he said.

“If a big Hollywood production wanted to make it worth my while, I would consider a leave of absence,” Gow said. “But this is what I do.”