Once upon a time.
Once upon a time I saw my first show. It was 1972 and I was 11. The show was Brigadoon, and I was in Kenmore, New York, and the ticket was a birthday present wrapped in a Willy Wonka Scrunch bar from my sister, Diane.
Once upon a time I heard my grandfather sing Paddy McGinty’s Goat at every family gathering when we gathered around the piano, played by Aunt Mary, ending with When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.
Once upon a time I spent a Christmas in Belfast, Northern Ireland — my first Christmas away from my family — with my Irish brother Noel Kiernan and his family. I was a junior in college, and I felt my Irish roots searching for nourishment.
I started teaching high school English and Drama in the 1983-84 school year after graduating from SUNY Fredonia in 1983 with a double major in Theatre Arts and English. After seven years of high school teaching, I became a student again, when I entered the MFA in Directing program in the 1990-91 school year at CCM. I was in heaven. My wife Lauren and I spent three poor, wonderful years in an apartment on Glendora Avenue while Wilson Auditorium became my artistic playground. After graduating in 1993, I was hired to be on the Drama faculty at CCM. With a foot in two departments — Drama and Musical Theater — I became a Professor of Acting, Movement, and Directing to start the 1993-94 school year. I directed plays and musicals with rabid intensity, saying YES to every project in every location. The following year, 1994-95 I was asked to be the Chair of the Drama Department (now called the Acting Department) and I said YES — a position I held for 25 years.
Flash forward to today, and I am still at CCM directing plays and musicals and teaching acting and movement, enjoying a celebration year as I prepare to retire in August of 2022 at the end of this school year. What a journey! I am so grateful to every student with whom I spent time in class or in rehearsal, who allowed me to learn to be a better teacher with each passing year, who attended classes and rehearsals with passion and open hearts and intense creative curiosity.
This is the 33rd musical I have directed at CCM in the past 29 years. I’m often asked, ‘which is your favorite?’ The answer: The one I am currently working on. Directing is such a deep dive that you must fall head over heels in love with the project at hand. Every time. Now Once is my favorite musical. I just love it. It celebrates music and culture, and the coming together of unlikely people and cultures in an unlikely time. It celebrates love. The book is simple and gorgeous. When words fail, the music soars, and dreams ride on the wings of notes with Irish abandonment.
This cast, and this artistic team, has embraced the impossible with this production. So many of the actors on this stage learned to play their instruments for this production, and I am in awe. Guitar, drums, piano, the bodhran, an accordion? They said yes because they love to make music. Many have not been in a show for two years, and for many this is their first on stage production at CCM. They are a fearless group, the perfect group to lead you to Dublin, to introduce you to a broken-hearted Guy who meets an open-hearted Girl. During a pandemic. Once.
This has been a perfect show to be the last musical I direct at CCM. Welcome to the journey.
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
And until we meet again,
May the gods hold you in the palms of their hands.