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Sep 12, 2011 1:34 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Eastport South Manor Theater Group Raising Money To Revive Spring Musical

Sep 14, 2011 12:52 PM

When Eastport South Manor School District officials had to slash funding prior to last May’s budget vote, they were forced to put the high school theater program’s fall and spring musicals on the chopping block. That decision left dozens of students involved with theater arts without the money needed to stage the shows that often become the cornerstones of their high school careers.

That loss of funding—a total of $96,986.85, to be exact—has since given birth to a group that was recently recognized as a not-for-profit: the ESM Community for the Arts.

The mission of the new organization, which is the brainchild of Barbara Stanco and several other concerned district parents, is to raise at least $50,000 to put on the spring musical this school year. She noted that there simply is not enough time to raise the cash to also reinstate the fall production.

In order to raise enough cash to put on the spring musical, parents and students have been organizing a number of fundraisers, including a bake sale held in July at the King Kullen in Manorville that raised $1,500. A more recent yard sale, held over Labor Day weekend, netted several thousand dollars as well. Organizers are now making plans for a golf outing scheduled for October.

To date, organizers say they have raised approximately $10,500 in donations, and those involved with the effort are confident that they’ll reach their goal by early next year. “Baby steps,” said a smiling Ms. Stanco, whose 16-year-old daughter Alex is involved in the high school theater program.

The faces behind the ESM Community for the Arts are student actors and musicians, along with their families. Their common goal is to revive the spring production, so it can be enjoyed by the community, including those who came out en masse last spring, filling the junior-senior high school auditorium on both nights that the spring musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” was performed.

“It was heartbreaking,” said senior theater student Shelby Nielsen, 16, who most recently starred as Mrs. Potts in last year’s spring musical, regarding the School Board’s decision last spring to slash funding for the two high school musicals. “You see kids at our fundraisers saying, ‘What do you mean there will be no show?’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get them back for you.’”

Group members began organizing their efforts in January, during audition callbacks for “Beauty and the Beast.” Since then, Ms. Stanco said, the district’s estimated 100-plus theater students have become involved with the foundation. “We had heard they were proposing cuts in January, during callbacks for ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” she said. “We met with the superintendent [Mark Nocero] and had a strong feeling there would be cuts.

“It was kind of a blessing in disguise,” she added, referring to the timing of the announcement. “The [spring] production helped us to bring everyone together.”

Originally, some parents said they were told that the district was looking to cut a stagecraft teacher position from the theater arts department. After learning of the possible layoff, parents attended several School Board meetings last winter and asked the members to instead cut the theatrical productions.

The reasoning behind that request, according to Shelby, was that the teaching position was too valuable to lose. She explained that the stagecraft program involves the entire district, noting that, for example, it is responsible for setting up the sound systems for school assemblies and other special events.

Still, the trade-off—the loss of both the fall and spring musicals—was devastating, Shelby said.

Today, resurrecting one of the productions is of paramount importance to Shelby and her fellow students. She said ESM’s theater program, which she described as one of the best in the state, must be reinstated for the younger students who deserve their chance to perform in the spotlight. She noted that several young women told her during a meet-and-greet held during last spring’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” that they could not wait to star on the stage.

“It’s sad to think that they wouldn’t have the same opportunities I had,” Shelby said. “I said, ‘I’ll get them back for you. I promise.’”

Ms. Stanco and fellow parents Deb Ippolito, Tanya Mastaglio, Pat McDonald and Katie Spellman are familiar faces at the School Board meetings as co-founders of the organization. According to Ms. Stanco, the group has the full support of the board, adding that several members donated items for the recent bake sale. Group members hosted their second fundraiser over Labor Day weekend, a large yard sale held at W&K Farms in Manorville.

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Thank god we cut these programs and saved 96k that way we can continue to pay a teacher who's been arrested 4 times for DWI. Remember the BS line all the administrators use " It's for the children" who are we kidding it's all about preserving the jobs of all these overpaid babies.
By maxwell (169), speonk on Sep 14, 11 1:53 PM
I would ask that in these tough times certain teachers in the music dept. take salary reductions........say how about Mr. J. Robson @$140k per yr. or his brother @$120k per yr.. How about a salary freeze for about 2-3 yrs????? I find it amazing that there is so much GREED in our community.
By T-BONE (6), manorville on Sep 14, 11 9:34 PM
So let's see how Mr Fairness responds to this : From 1965 through 2000 south manor contracts ranked in the lower 10 percent of the county while delivering Quality education and un paid volunteer time to programs that were generously compensated in nearby districts.. no clammer There for so called Fairness ... And if what you quoted as Robson salaries is infact true..this is a result of school board elected reps...Whom you in fact, if you are a voting resident, may have pulled the lever for!!
Ok ...more
By kahuna (70), Tampa on Sep 15, 11 12:58 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By kahuna (70), Tampa on Sep 15, 11 12:59 PM