Guest Column (5/14/09)

Remembering Al Myers

May 14, 2009

By Stephen Mease

Teacher Al Myers passed away on April 25 after a tragic accident while he was working on the set for his next Williston Central School Drama production — “The Wizard of Oz.” It was during the traditional school vacation work on all the sets and rush to get ready for the dress rehearsal on Monday or Tuesday and opening night on Friday. Apparently, he was working alone late in the evening when he fell from a ladder. He wasn’t found until the next morning and, despite being rushed to the hospital for surgery, it wasn’t to be. He died early Saturday morning.

My first experience seeing Swift House teacher Al Myers in action was back when he produced “Hello, Dolly!” in 2001. My oldest son, Noah, (a sixth grader then) was cast as Barnaby, the innocent sidekick to Cornelius Hackle.

“Holy Cabooses, Al!” Little did you know you were about to set in motion a lifelong love of theatre for him that led him to perform in countless musicals, to adapt a play and produce it in high school for his Grad Challenge, and then go on to Middlebury College, where he writes and performs in radio plays, has stage craft for work study and made his major playwriting/theatre and Spanish.

Along the way, I started taking photos to help publicize the spring shows and to make some shots available to other parents. Since that first show, I have had the privilege of taking photos of just about all his shows since “Hello, Dolly!”

Among my favorites — “Camelot” (an amazingly lit show), “Oklahoma” (the dream scenes), “Music Man” (the opening train scene), “Once On This Island” (driving around the island), “Fiddler on the Roof” (the train station scenes and bottle dance) and “Seussical” (everything). In each and every show, Al brought kids to the stage that might never have taken the leap without his ability to make it seem cool and the thing to do.

Taking the photos meant I also saw WCS Drama Club’s work in the rough rehearsal stages. I’ll admit there were a couple of Monday tech rehearsals that had me wondering how it was all going to come together by opening night in just four days.

But it always did. Al orchestrated the pieces together at just the right moment to have a spectacular opening night. And it usually got better from there. It happened again with “The Wizard of Oz,” the show he was working on when he died. Friends from all walks of his life pitched in to make sure his last show was the best ever. And it was.

Al Myers worked magic, whether it was a bottle drive to raise money for Washington, D.C. trips or encouraging students on their eighth grade challenges or simply showing them ways to excel in their daily studies.

The semi-annual Swift House trips to Washington D.C. were planned with military precision, right down to the chaperone money at the breakfast stop and procedures to make sandwiches for the day at the youth hostel. Two years ago, not even a sneaky attack by bed bugs at the hostel ruffled his feathers — he just got on the cell phone, made new arrangements, rounded up the troops and moved everyone to a new and better place to stay. Hardly a monument or museum was missed.

He liked Monty Python, Groucho Marx and bad jokes. He whistled while he worked. He instilled a love of learning in countless Swift House kids over the years — working in an amazing team setting that earned Williston schools national recognition for cutting-edge educational innovation. Julie, Amy, Gary and Bernie in Swift House, my heart goes out to you. Fly Forever!

Al, I am grateful for your friendship and the times we spent together. I especially thank you for allowing me to discover something I love to do — take photos of musical theatre and other special events. Thanks for being a great role model, teacher and mentor to my sons.

On the day Al Myers passed away, I set up a Facebook fan page in his memory — “Remembering Al Myers.” It was intended to be a place to share a memory of Al Myers with those who were also missing him. After a week, more than 900 people had signed up and I think a majority of them left a heartfelt message or two online. Taken together, the stories and memories paint the picture of a man who did so much for so many.

The best tribute any of us can pay Al now is to live our own lives a little more like he did his. That, and occasionally whistle a show tune while you work.

Stephen Mease is the News and Public Information director at Champlain College and a freelance photographer. He lives in Williston.