Monday, March 23, 2015

Swan Song

The Final Curtain

When my oldest son Stephen was eighteen and a senior at Stroudsburg (PA) High School in 1984, he came home one day and told me his class needed someone to direct their class play. Would I do it?

I’d just been part of a community theater production which I’d directed, sort of, by default. Our organization had hired a young man from a nearby college to direct Babes in Toyland, and after about six weeks, family crises forced him to withdraw. My directing experience was limited but when the group asked if I’d take over, I took a deep breath and plunged in. I didn’t feel it was “my” show, but it turned out pretty well. So I told Steve sure, it sounded like fun. I like directing, and it seems I have a talent for it. I've learned a great deal over the years.

The principal, superintendent and activities director asked me to do a musical rather than a play, and since that’s my inclination, education and discipline I said "sure" again. So we presented Babes in Arms, a show I thoroughly enjoyed. The young man who played Valentine White is presently in his sixteenth season as a Metropolitan Opera Chorus member … and another cast member appeared for a time in Hairspray on Broadway some years later. So we had some talented kids on stage for that show, and it launched a revived musical program for the school.

A few years later, in 1991, I began directing at East Stroudsburg High School. The first show I directed there was Bye Bye Birdie; the second was Babes in Arms. (I like Babes in Arms.) I spent a lot of years at Eastburg. In 2000, the school was bursting at the seams. A new high school had been built and the district now had two high schools: North and South. Our last show as one school was Brigadoon. Our first show as ESHS South was Fiddler on the Roof. Over the years highlights for me were Brigadoon, Into the Woods, The Secret Garden, Les Mis Student Edition, Oklahoma!, Carousel (twice) and this year’s production, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. These are the productions I took the most pride in. Excellently written shows with good scores, and everything  about the productions worked.

So it is with a sense of real satisfaction that I am closing the curtain on my life as a high school musical theater director. Tom Sawyer was a first rate show: the kids performed really well, the production level was high. My lighting designer and I did some pretty nifty stuff. The musical director was exceptional. The costumer outdid herself. The set was beautiful. It was all good. I wish we’d had bigger audiences, but those that came loved what they saw.

Directing is a fascinating process, especially with high school students. Over the years I worked with some incredibly talented young men and women … some of whom made this their life. Two students from our 1997 production of Into the Woods are still performing professionally; one has been part of the Wicked family for I believe at least eight years. Another has performed continuously in regional and off-Broadway productions. A 2006 graduate from ESHS South attended University of the Arts and has worked continuously from the second semester of his senior year. Another, who also is a graduate of UArts, has performed, taught, coached, and had a life in musical theater since his graduation from ESHS in 2000 (he was Charlie Dalrymple in Brigadoon, and is an outstanding performer/teacher/coach).

And many, many students have commented over the years on their experiences as part of the school’s annual musical show. It’s a unique experience, being more than a team member, having for a time a true sense of family with their fellow cast members. It’s different from being on a sports team, or even being in choir or an instrumental group. Each show is a re-creation of a different time and place …and for the audience to accept the shift in reality, the cast has to experience it. Our best efforts produced our best performances, always.

I have many great memories of the places we visited in our collective imagination and the lives my casts shared on stage. Despite some offstage drama, the performances brought out the best in even the most difficult cast members, and I like to believe they learned and grew. I know I did. I thank all of them, and all of the caring, nurturing, dedicated adults who contributed so much to each and every production.

It was a good run.