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The End of an Era - My First Inspiration in Theater

Tonight, my high school theater director will be overseeing his final show at New Milford High School. I had hoped to be there but life gets in the way.

Bobby Keck first taught me to love theater as a sophomore. Our all-school musical was Anything Goes and he needed tech crew. I was happy to learn lights, sound, set building and the ins and outs of being a stage manager. I remember being captivated by the high school musical production of Bye, Bye Birdie as an 8th grader in the audience. This was my chance to be a part of the show.

Through three musicals and two senior plays (I filled in for the stage manager who was down with mono my junior year), Mr. Keck taught me a resourcefulness that comes with figuring out how to create a different world out of very little. My tech friends and I were McGyvers with duct tape and carpentry scraps. We sewed backdrops, built turntables, patched cables into an ancient light board, and harvested props from family basements. And we did it all without the Internet to guide us!

I learned how to quickly assess a problem and figure out a solution. When something goes wrong in the middle of a show, there are no time outs. Theater teaches us to improvise, both on the stage and in the wings, a skill that is invaluable in life.

Mr. Keck also taught me to love music. Though I never sang in his chorus or took a part on stage, I loved to gather around the piano with others and belt out show tunes or Simon and Garfunkel songs.

The love of theater that started in high school led to my choice of college. When I walked into the, at the time, state-of-the-art theater at Muhlenberg College and saw the tech booth with the $250,000 light board, I knew I had found my home for four years. The program that I joined there took me to new heights as I learned real carpentry skills, traveled with shows to theater competitions and learned more about the organizational skills that make a great stage manager. I learned from the best at Muhlenberg. Our little-known Pennsylvania liberal arts college has twice been named the top theater program in the country in the last decade. The professors who led us in the late 80s are still training theater students there today.

Little did I know that my theater skills would eventually set me up perfectly for my current work role. The things that made me a good stage manager: resourcefulness, organization, thrift, creativity, and the ability to make quick decisions under pressure, are the skills that make me a good conference planner today.

More than anything, I am so happy to pass my love of the theater to my kids. They have been carted to theater performances since they could sit up and we have not found many shows (other than Cats!) that have not captivated both of them.

While my son has not embraced being on the stage, despite a nice turn as a Mohawk-wearing hooligan in Acadia Community Theater’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, his reason for not wanting to be on stage is valid. He loves to watch the shows (and sing along in the audience!) I can’t blame him.

My 10-year old daughter, Erin, is already a veteran of five musicals and four Christmas plays with ACT. She had the great opportunity to play Violet Beauregarde (and turn into a giant blueberry) in ACT’s production of Willy Wonka last Spring. She loves to sing and act and adores the costumes and make up that go along with being on the stage. I love the confidence that theater has instilled in my girl. Watching her step to the edge of the stage, in front of a crowd of 550 people at The Criterion, to belt out her solo is a memory that I will treasure forever.

ACT has also fed my desire to be involved in theater again. As the board president, I hope I am making a difference as we attempt to take our organization to the next level. We are offering more opportunities than ever for adults and kids of all ages to participate in a variety of programming. We are expanding into Summer Shakespeare and scholarships. I am working in the background on marketing, program sales and design, and our social media profile.

I am grateful for all the lessons that have come to me from having theater in my life. And now, I am most grateful for the connection that it provides with my kids. As the curtain closes on Mr. Keck’s great career at NMHS, I hope that he gets the recognition that he deserves for impacting the lives of so many young people. I know he changed mine!

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