Serena Seacat, Retiring Theater Director At The East Hampton Schools, Gets A Big Round Of Applause

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The show at East Hampton High School on Saturday night wasn’t directed by Serena Seacat, and she wasn’t onstage till the very end. But oh, the size of that bouquet!
In the “arrangement” was a standing ovation for the performing arts director, who’s leaving the district after 11 years. There were also surprises: a scholarship in Ms. Seacat’s name and an encore by former students, some as old as 29, to reprise roles she directed them in, in previous years. Even the program was filled with loving testimonials.

Tap-dancers clicking through“42nd Street.” Guys with forks and spoons on their heads singing “Be Our Guest.” Poodle skirts and ponytails. A real motorcycle that drew applause.

“Anything Goes,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Hello Dolly,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Aladdin,” “Grease,” “Big,” “Oliver,” “South Pacific,” “Beauty and the Beast,” Mame,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Oklahoma,” “Leader of the Pack,” about 15 vignettes in all.

It drove her crazy not to be directing them, Ms. Seacat said when she thanked everyone from the stage at the end and accepted an actual bouquet.

“It was phenomenal,” she said on Monday. “I was just completely, completely overwhelmed. It was so beautiful and so touching and I was so blessed and I had no idea about the scholarship. Oh my goodness, what an honor.”

After more than 30 years in East Hampton, Ms. Seacat is heading back to Kansas to become the artistic director of “a new, not-yet-completed, state-of-the-art theater” where professional productions will be staged and young people will take part in an educational capacity. She has a professional acting career that spans 50 years and includes credits in theater, film, soap operas, the game show “Beat the Clock,” radio voice-overs, modeling, tap-dancing, directing and local work, including at Guild Hall, where she founded Dramarama as well as directing musicals and other productions.

Over the last 11 years she’s directed high school and middle school productions in East Hampton, and over the last three years productions at the John Marshall Elementary School as well.

“She makes you feel so much a part of the process,” said Debbie Mansir, who’s worked with her as assistant director for most of that time. “Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s the kid who pulls the curtain or the lead of the show, it’s an
amazing quality she has to draw everyone in,” Ms. Mansir said.
Brian Niggles and Laura Sisco, two former students who helped organize, stage and fundraise for Saturday’s celebration, were in agreement.

“Serena’s a remarkable director able to teach any age,” said Mr. Niggles, an economics major who’s graduating from New York University this year.

She teaches with a professional approach, how to act on stage, how to develop a character, he said, even with the younger children. Those skills pay off later, he said, in boosting confidence and the way you present yourself as an adult.

‘I never thought of myself as being a lead,” said Mr. Niggles, who performed in at least five of the high school musicals. “We were all family … we really felt that way through the course of the production and the performance; everybody got to know each other.”

“We all consider her to be a part of our family, she’s very charismatic, she has great stories to tell … when she was in the city on Broadway.”

“In a district as small as we are, I think we’re very fortunate to have had someone so professional and very down to earth,” he added. “It’s a lot of time spent together and it’s at night and after school, and it’s usually after a long day, so it takes a strong person and a caring leader.”

“Serena’s just an amazing person,” said Laura Sisco, a former student who choreographed Saturday’s show as well as many of the high school musicals, and who now teaches dance. “I’m glad people were willing to come back,” she said, adding that they did so even to help tech the show. “Serena was just a special part of their lives.”

The scholarship will go to “someone who has a love and a passion for the theater whether they work behind the stage or in the pit,” Ms. Mansir said. She said it will reward commitment, reliability, and treating everyone like family, qualities Ms. Seacat has applauded while working at the schools.

Meanwhile, Ms. Seacat has one more show to direct in the East Hampton School District: “Cinderella” at the John Marshall Elementary School, which will have an evening performance for the public on May 22 and a morning one for the school community on May 23.

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