The Backbone of the Eastport South Manor Theater Program
(A Write Teacher FEATURE in The Southampton Press…check your local papers, as this was a PRINTED article, not online….)
March is officially Theater in Our Schools (TIOS) Month, a fact that many people are not aware of, but something that I believe should be brought to everyone’s attention.
I work at several different schools, and one of them is currently rehearsing for an upcoming production of West Side Story. They actually open at the end of the month, which seems to be quite fitting being that it is TIOS month. Anyway, I digress. These students are part of a thirty-year-old outstanding theater program in a public high school, located in Manorville, New York. The theater at Eastport South Manor High School is absolutely state of the art, in fact, I can safely say that I’ve never seen another theater like that in a high school. The 1000 seat house, the fly space, the rigging system, the sound board, the wing space, the dressing rooms, well, the theater of Eastport South Manor can put the ones at some small colleges to shame. It’s fantastic. Have I mentioned that the high school is only ten years old? Now some of you may be wondering where this outstanding thirty three year old program performed for the twenty-three years before the current school was built. The answer is simple…a gymnasium.
Yes, I said a gymnasium.
They built the stage and the risers to put the seats on. They made their own wings, and put up thick black curtains in the corners of the gym. They stored their costumes anywhere they could, and they used one of the oldest lighting systems I’ve ever seen. Bare bones. But, when the house went dark, and the lights came up on the stage, well, magic happened. The talent and dedication of the cast and crew truly transported you into a different world, and you, for three hours; you forgot that you were in a gymnasium.
Aside from the actual theater facility, not much has changed over the past thirty-three years. The magic of the shows just intensified. The years went by, and the students got better and better and better. People come to the shows now, and truly are amazed. But let us not forget that this is not some random coincidence, some fluke, or that it really has anything to do with a fancy new theater. The success of this program, or shall I say the backbone of this program, is due to two men who embody teacher in every sense of the word.
Mr. Min started this program in that gymnasium thirty-three years ago, and it has been his lifelong passion ever since. It has been his blood, his sweat, his tears, and his love. But, perhaps that is what makes him a living legend. I’ve never quite seen a teacher command unending respect, love, and admiration. It’s remarkable. The rehearsals for the shows are intense: they rehearse, for eight weeks, Monday-Saturday, for at least four to six hours a day. The crew comes in everyday as well, (they BUILD the set from scratch), and they also come in on Sundays. A musical will involve roughly 110 students, (that’s crew, pit, and the cast), and they all do their best to emulate the passion that they see from Mr. Min. He expects the best from them, and will accept nothing less. He sets the bar high, but he does everything in his power to set them up for success. In an age where it seems that teenagers could care less about adults’ opinions of them, these students are crushed if they even feel like Mr. Min, or “Min”, as the kids call him, is disappointed in them. It’s a beautiful thing. But, as the legend himself will tell you, he could not have been so successful had he been working alone all those years, so I do feel as though it is a necessity to address his loyal friend, partner in crime, and the other half of MinRaynor productions, Mr. John Raynor.
Min and Raynor have been working together for thirty-three years. Min had a vision of what the theater program could be for the students, what it could do for the students, and Raynor shared and supported him in that vision. These men are the heart of the Theater Program at Eastport South Manor High School, and they always will be. They would come into school on Sundays, and they would stay until eleven pm when rehearsing. They brought their work home with them, always, and always gave beyond one hundred percent to their work. Yes, they teach their students about theater, but, as one of their former students said to me recently, “they prepare them for a world that’s bigger and more important than high school, they treated us like real people from day one.” I believe that the best teachers are the most passionate teachers. I believe that the best teachers are the ones that make their students want to be their best possible selves. If I, or any other aspiring teacher could possess even the tiniest bit of passion, dedication, and professionalism that these two men encompass, well, the world would be a better place.
Recently, budget cuts in New York State have been rather severe, across the board, especially in teaching. Last year, the theater program took a hit. They actually saved one of the two theater teacher positions, but, in order to make ends meet, they lost the funding to produce the outstanding plays that have been a beacon in the community for the past thirty-three years. Upsetting? Yes. But, truthfully, it is always possible to put together a show, and putting a teacher on the sacrificial excess platter was not a smart way to keep the program alive.
As one might imagine, the community both in and outside of school, was rather upset. So, they mobilized, and RAISED close to forty thousand dollars to produce the show. I truly believe that this is a testament to the lifelong work of Mr. Min and Mr. Raynor, for over the past thirty three years, they have exposed the community to their craft, their art form, and heightened everyone awareness of the importance of it, both in and outside the classroom. These two men have made countless impressions on the lives of young people. Yes, many of their former students will work in the professional theater world, but there are just as many that become lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, military professionals, policemen, and, well, the list goes on. Yet, I can say, with certainty, that all of these students remember Mr. Min and Mr. Raynor. I’ve seen them come back to visit, send a yearly Christmas card, and speak at various alumni events.
Theater education is not about becoming a movie star, or a tony award winner, or the next Meryl Streep. It’s about what Mr. Min and Mr. Raynor teach…it’s about life. It’s about community. It’s about partnership. It’s about passion. It’s about dedication. It’s about heart.
I hope you all enjoyed this! We are very proud of our “Write Teachers”.
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