2017-01-27 / Front Page

Filling big shoes

New SPHS theater director, John York
By Wm. Duke
Harrington Staff Writer

John York John York SOUTH PORTLAND — When South Portland High School stages its annual musical theater performance this weekend, it will be the first in the annual series directed by John York. But York is no stranger to the school stage, having designed sets for its productions since 2002, and having worked for the school as auditorium manager since 2003.

During a recent break in rehearsal, he sat down in his office for a conversation with the Sentry.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

A: You’re welcome, although I hate talking about myself. This is painful for me. I’ve been an Equity (union) actor since 1986. I love being on stage where I’m “out there,” and not me. But once I have to be me, I’m, errrr, I don’t want to show people who I am. (laughs)

Q: We’ll try to make it as painless as possible. How did you first people involved with the school’s theater program?

A: I was asked to come on in 2002 by Steve and Jane Filieo, who directed the shows here for more than 25 years, because they were doing “Peter Pan” that year, and I had flown people. I was then brought back the next year to design sets and got the position of auditorium manager, and a few years ago started doing the sound.

Q: Where did you learn to fly people?

A: In 1984 at Brunswick Music Theater, now the Maine State Music Theater. They did a version of “Peter Pan” that year, with a fly-master out of Las Vegas. That’s a huge show, and the work with the wires in immense. So, the Filieos needed someone with experience, so, I said, sure, I’ve done that, and by the way, I design, too.

Q: You’ve done a bit of everything over the past 15 years on the annual school musical. How hard was it to let go of some of those jobs, once you were hired to direct?

A: Letting go was hard.

As much as I wanted to be here, here, here, here, I had to get my priorities in line. I hired a sound guy, hired a stage manager, hire a new lighting person. I am still the set designer though. I can’t give away everything.

Q: What was the nervousness factor, if any, in taking over the Filieos?

A: I don’t want to say I’m not worried, but I’ve learned so much from them, and I experience from other places, that I felt extremely comfortable putting myself out there in that sense, and getting my ideas across to the kids. And the kids have been just so accepting. They were genuinely excited when they heard I got it, I think. So, it’s been easy to share my love of the theater.

Q: What attracted you to the theater?

A: I just love it so much. I’ve been doing it for years. My parents did it. My sister did it.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I was born in Pennsylvania, but my family is from here. My family built the Portland Observatory. I had summered up here all my life and we officially moved back in 1988 and I went to school at Hebron Academy. I live in South Portland now.

Q: How many students are involved in the production?

A: There are 18 kids on the tech crew behind the scenes, and another 18 in the orchestra pit, augmented by several professional players, and about 50 on stage. Everybody who auditions gets cast. So, they will all learn something. The tech kids learn how to use a screw gun, how to paint wood to look like wood, to play better by sitting next to a professional, which really bumps them up a notch just from having had that experience. For the kids on stage, Being vulnerable to 300 to 700 people out there staring at you and just putting it all out there is a skill that applies to real lie.

Q: What do you think is the best part of the experience for students, when they work on the annual show?

A: I have seen kids come in this program that are shy and kind of sit in the corner, and by the end of it they are so out there, so friendly. They have a whole new crew of friends. There are 70 plus kids in this and its all a horde. They go to Friendly’s after rehearsal as one big group – sorry Friendly’s. And the tears closing night at cast party are real. It does become a family.

Q: What do you get out of it?

A: To have kids enjoy what they are doing is huge. To have then have fun, learn something, and meet people who they might not usually hang out with in school, that’s what it’s all about. What I love is when teachers who know these kids come up to me in the hallway and say, “They’re having such much fun!” It’s good for teenagers to feel like they belong in a big, huge group like this.

Q: What else should people know?

A: Well, it’s not about me. It’s about the kids. They’ve all been working really hard since last fall, so I hope everyone will come out and see the show.


The South Portland High School musical production of “Once Upon A Mattress,” the first directed by longtime auditorium manager John York, runs January 27 and 28 and Feb. 3 and 4, with shows at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, and are available online at https://www.myticketportal.com.

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