Under a spotlight, Serena Seacat walked into East Hampton High School’s auditorium on May 11 to a standing ovation and former theater students reaching out to shake her hand as she passed.
About 350 people clapped from the audience to honor the retiring school theater director.
“It was phenomenal. I felt like a celebrity,” Seacat said. “I saw faces I hadn’t seen in five or 10 years. Many of my students came back. I was surprised and taken aback by the love and support.”
After Seacat announced in December she would retire as the East Hampton school district’s theater director at the end of the school year, two of her former students decided to organize a night of theater in her honor.
“We took every show Serena had directed in the district over the last 12 years and performed her favorite scenes to show how much she impacted our lives,” said her former student Laura Sisco, 25, of Montauk.
Nearly 70 of her current and former students directed, produced, designed, choreographed and starred in the tribute show involving scenes from "Grease," "Leader of the Pack," "Bye Bye Birdie," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Oklahoma."
The $6,000 raised from ticket sales for the event helped initiate a theater arts scholarship, which will provide at least two graduating seniors with a college scholarship to pursue theater arts.
Seacat, who knew of Theater Night but not that it was in her honor, said that when she was pulled on stage, she was nearly speechless and overwhelmed by the “outpour of affection.”
Seacat is not retiring completely. She said she took a job as artistic director of a new theater being built in her hometown of Wichita, Kansas where she’ll continue working with young actors.
“The truth is, I’m not really retiring,” she said. “I could never just walk away from doing what I love, I’m just moving to another venue. I’ll always be there for my students. Always.”
Sisco said no matter how stressful rehearsals got, Seacat had a way of easing her students’ nerves.
“Somehow she would always help us pull it together in time for the show,” said the 2006 graduate of East Hampton High School who met Seacat during her freshman year. “On Theater Night, it wasn’t about the performance, it was about showing how appreciative we are to have her. She’s always been there for us and it was our chance to be there for her.”
Brian Niggles, who graduated from the East Hampton High School in 2009, met Seacat in the fifth grade when he tried out for the production of "Annie" at East Hampton Middle School in 2001. He said he was grateful that Seacat treated all her students equally, whether they were playing lead characters or not.
“She didn’t treat me like just a student, she treated me like an adult or a professional actor,” Niggles, 22, said. “And since she held us at such a high standard, you tend to rise to the occasion.”
At the end of the tribute, Seacat gave her closing statement, which relayed her gratitude and continued admiration for the students and all their hard work over the years.
“These students can be so young, vulnerable and impressionable that I pray I’ve done right by them,” Seacat said. “I just want to leave the district knowing that they understand how much I genuinely care about each and every one of them.”