Jack Gremli, Nanuet High School
Years in director’s seat: 22 years in Nanuet.
Best reason to join a musical: The soft-spoken Gremli, who co-directs with his wife, choreographer Carol Gremli, finds power in the messages the musicals teach. Whether it’s “Fiddler on the Roof” (honor family and tradition), “Once Upon a Mattress” (be yourself) or “Damn Yankees” (appreciate love when you have it), there are lessons to be learned.
The same goes for “Hairspray,” co-written by Nanuet graduate Scott Wittman, who sent a note to the cast, crew and orchestra wishing them well.
“‘Hairspray’ brings together a diverse cast, with a message to accept everybody not for what they look like but for who they are,” Gremli says.
How musicals change kids: The musical demands focus, even from students for whom that is not a strength, Gremli says. It challenges them to channel their energies and put them to good use.
“I’ve seen many kids who are the biggest pains in the neck in English class and I say, ‘Get him down here and put him center stage’ and they become the star of the show. Time and time again that has happened. I seek out the kids who are hyper and talented and put the lights on and say ‘Go, man. You can’t hide.’ Of course, there’s a whole mess of training before that moment.”
How kids change directors: “Hopefully, I’ve become a better listener. Young actors have strong feelings about what they do and have a lot to say. Imposing a thought process or prejudice on students doesn’t get nearly the results that listening and guidance can accomplish. The director’s ultimate goal is to create an environment in which the actor feels safe to take chances in pursuit of success.
“I’ve also realized that theater is the ultimate performance assessment in education. After all preparation and hard work in rehearsal is completed, it all comes down to standing center stage, turning on the lights and sharing what you have learned with a group of evaluators called the audience. No standardized test can measure what one has learned more effectively.”
Most memorable moment: Back in the ’90s, a student emerged from the chorus and took on a lead role.
“In ‘The Wiz,’ Jennifer Barnett, who was a wonderful alto in the chorus the year before, stepped up to play Dorothy and sang ‘Home’ in a way that made you say: ‘Why is this girl going into missionary work?’ When she had her moment, everyone else on stage disappeared. She was that good.”
Wish I knew it sooner: “One year, the girl playing Reno Sweeney in ‘42nd Street’ was late for school and if you miss any classes at Nanuet, you can’t participate in extra-curricular activities. We trained her understudy in one day. The girl was amazing and everybody worked all day long to get her ready — I got permission to pull kids out of class to rehearse her. She needed the script in just one scene.
“While it all worked out fine, at the time, I wish I had known that Reno was going to be late. I would have made sure she wasn’t.”
Photo by Peter D. Kramer