‘I want to expose people to new titles. If kids see diversity and grow up with it, then it normalizes it.’
“I loved being known as the piano man. Music created a home for me where I felt noticed when I didn’t at home. I’d take every opportunity I could to play piano for my middle school’s chorus. The school musical took up most of my time. It’s where I felt important. In high school, I would act in the musicals, and then I’d go to the middle school and music direct their shows.
“My family wasn’t active with anything I did. I grew up in Plainview, and I didn’t know any other gay kids. We also didn’t have a single black kid. Now that I’m a high school choir teacher, one thing I love about where I teach is that it’s a very mixed community. It wasn’t until I began teaching that I was immersed in different cultures. I founded the Long Island Musical Theatre Festival (LIMTF) nine years ago because I wanted to find a way to give students a professional theatre experience but in an educational setting to bridge those two things.
“LIMTF is a two-week intensive in which students prepare two shows in two weeks. It gives them a look at how it works professionally. Very few students of color audition, and we need much more diversity in theatre. Representation matters. We are currently offering five full scholarships for the high school intensive for students who identify as people of color.
I’ve learned that being a teacher and director of music is about the relationships you build with the kids and their families. Any time you see them there is an instant connection. So many people don’t have those kinds of connections in their fields. I’m so lucky.
“When I started teaching, I never imagined years later I’d do lessons on Judy Garland and the Stonewell Riots. I’d like to be able to do diverse shows like “Big River” and “Ragtime.” It’s sad that we have the capability of doing this material, but for some reason there’s a disconnect and we don’t have the casting required to present it authentically. If kids see diversity and grow up with it, then it normalizes it. We’re hoping it enriches their lives and shows them that there are many ways to make a living in the field of musical theatre.
“I’ve learned that being a teacher and director of music is about the relationships you build with the kids and their families. I’m with them four years and we get so close. Sometimes, after they graduate, you no longer keep in touch, but any time you see them there is an instant connection. So many people don’t have those kinds of connections in their fields. I’m so lucky.”