Students from the Long Island High School for the Arts received backstage access to the cast and crew of Broadway's "Life of Pi." Credit: Ed Quinn

Start small. Seek out opportunities. And keep on learning.

That's some of the advice a group of Long Island high school students got from an award-winning theater producer and some cast members of the Broadway play “Life of Pi.”

“You have to start small, learn and work your way up,” Tony-winning Broadway producer Hal Luftig told half a dozen students during a video call Tuesday at Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset, a Nassau BOCES program established to prepare students for careers in the arts. 

Four of the six students saw the play Sunday and spoke to cast members afterward about careers in theater.


  • Tony-winning producer Hal Luftig, who grew up in Farmingville, wanted to show a group of Long Island high school students the many pathways to Broadway.
  • So he helped facilitate a talkback after students saw "Life of Pi” on Broadway Sunday where they talked to cast members about a career in theater.
  • The professionals told the students to take advantage of the Island’s proximity to Manhattan and seek out opportunities.

The students are studying in the Scenic Construction & Production Technologies program to learn about design, lighting, costuming, puppetry and stage management under teacher Erik Chocianowski.

Luftig, a lead producer of "Life of Pi," is perhaps an example of how Long Island's proximity to Broadway can shape the life of a student in discovering theater.

Luftig grew up in Farmingville and attended schools in the Sachem school district. He told Newsday in a separate interview that he was mesmerized when his mother first took him to see “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

As they walked in, his mother reminded Luftig, who was about 8, to stay quiet during the show. It turned out there was no need for her to worry, Luftig said, because he was so taken by the play that it took his breath away.

“We were walking out, and she said — I'll never forget this, she said: ‘I have never seen you sit so quietly and so still,’ ” he said.

Hal Luftig, on screen, with Long Island High School for...

Hal Luftig, on screen, with Long Island High School for the Arts students, from left: Abigail Colfer, Annalise Taylor, Chaaya Letellier, Mikey Garcia and Addison Moore, after their video chat Tuesday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Soon enough, Luftig understood that a play, especially a musical, has a lot of moving parts: sets, lights, costumes and actors.

“I just knew. I don't know how I knew, but I just knew I wanted to be the person who puts all of that together,” he said. “That probably was very smart because I can't act, I can’t direct, and trust me, you do not want to hear me sing.”

Different paths to Broadway

So when Luftig heard from Iris Wiener — work-based learning coordinator at Long Island High School for the Arts who works to provide students with real-world experiences — that the students among others were going to see “Life of Pi,” he wanted to show them the many pathways to Broadway other than acting or singing.

“I just think it’s so important to expose kids to that,” he said. “Not only is it fun for them … to see all this, but I hope it lights a spark in their head.”

Luftig offered to speak to the class Tuesday and helped facilitate the talkback Sunday in which students talked to cast members.

The teens also "met" Richard Parker, the Royal Bengal tiger who was stranded in a lifeboat with Pi, a 16-year-old, after their cargo ship sank in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The play is the stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel with the same name. 

The students, on Broadway Sunday, were introduced to Richard Parker, the...

The students, on Broadway Sunday, were introduced to Richard Parker, the puppet tiger in "Life of Pi."

Credit: Ed Quinn

Annalise Taylor, 17, a high school senior from Massapequa who wants to become a costume technician on Broadway, said she appreciated the opportunity to speak to the theater professionals and see the puppet tiger up close.

“I thought it was just a very moving show,” she said Sunday outside the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in Manhattan. “I was really grateful to meet the people who were part of the show because it’s a field I want to work in.”

Career advice

Taylor and others said they were particularly struck by how the set turned from a marketplace to a ship at sea so quickly, and the stunning designs of the lifelike puppet animals.

“I was shocked to see puppets that big of a scale,” said Chaaya Letellier, 17, of Glen Cove.

Letellier, who wants to become an electrician, said it was helpful to get career advice from pros like the puppeteers who operated Richard Parker.

Betsy Rosen, a puppeteer who played the tiger’s "heart," told the students to keep on learning and be kind.

“I still am in acting class,” Rosen said. “Keep training. Keep wanting to learn and keep being someone that people want to work with. I think kindness, generosity and attitude really go a long way for people to want to work with you.” 

House electrician Sandy Paradise told the students to take advantage of Long Island’s proximity to Broadway and seek out internships, summer jobs or other work opportunities.

“You have that benefit that you can take the train from home to the city,” Paradise said. “It's very hard for a lot of people who can't afford to live in New York. … You have the opportunity to actually do these internships in New York and have a place to stay.”

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