In my time as technical director for the Irvington High School Drama Club, I used to routinely say to students, "I'm not sure why anyone would want to be on tech crew, but I am glad to have you here." Being on the crew is hard work, taking heaps of dedication and patience. The reward is not always an obvious one for a high school student. This dedication to a craft is something that I learned from Thom Johnson, the technical director at IHS for more than 30 years, including my years as a student.
In his work in the theater, Mr. Johnson was a magnet for students with a passion for building, painting, and all things technical. But what was more impressive was his ability to find students who had not found any such passion yet and inspired them to make beatiful things. Working on the sets every day after school with Mr, Johnson was an experience unlike anything else you did in high school. There was a real democratization to work. If you wanted to design the sets, Mr. Johnson would give you his blessing and all the help you needed to make your vision a reality.
If you wanted to design and set up the lighting for a show, you could do so with as much guidance or autonomy as you wanted. If you were a certain one of my classmates and all you wanted to do was destroy things with a hammer, well you were going to have to build sets first, but when the show had closed, you were allowed to go to town on a set piece.
What Thom Johnson really gave his students was a sense of agency, We were not his minions executing his plans. We were each a part of a team and if we wanted to create something great, we were going to have to put in the time. There were plenty of long days with breaks only for a quick dinner in between set construction and tech rehearsals. I do not think there was ever a day of an opening when the paint on one of the titanic sets Mr, Johnson was famous for, wasn't still drying as the curtain was parting. At the end of it all, nothing was more satisfying for me and my fellow tech crew members than seeing the product that we had created. It was a moment of pride equaled few times during our time in school. Mr. Johnson was there for it all and while he was proud of the sets as well, I know that he really took great pleasure in what he inspired in us.
Irvington High School's pit orchestra was established by Mr. Larry Corio, music teacher, wind ensemble and band director at Irvington High School for 29 years. Mr. Corio didn't believe in hiring professional musicians. In a way, the students had the experience of playing a real Broadway score and performing as professionals. For each show, the pit orchestra had to master a different musical style. Mr. Corio coached us through this daunting task with rehearsals beginning three months prior to opening night. Show after show, we rose to the occasion and performed the challenging music to his satisfaction, which wasn't very easy to do. However, his demands were always tempered by patience and guidance. His high expectations taught.