Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Amsterdam High School Drama Director William Nelson, right, critiques costumes during a costume parade of the final dress rehearsal for "Brighton Beach Memoirs" Thursday evening.
Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Amsterdam High School Drama Director William Nelson teaches students participating in a production of "Brighton Beach Memoirs" the best way to put make-up on the cast Thursday.
By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
Twenty-two years ago, a Long Island native with theater talent to share joined the ranks of teachers at Amsterdam High School.
Interviewing with former principal and theater guru Bert DeRose, William Nelson was hired as the new English teacher with one stipulation: that he would lead the high school's drama club.
Twenty-two years later, Nelson is about to watch his students perform their fall drama, Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," Nelson's 50th show at AHS.
Nelson said he was "bit by the bug" when he was in sixth grade.
"There were lots of opportunities for me to be involved there and boy did I love it," he said.
Nelson received a bachelor's degree in theater, attended the National Theater Institute in Connecticut, and was a professional actor in Chicago for eight months in between.
He later worked in a kid's theater in New York City and went on to get his Masters degree in English from the University of Albany.
After a few jobs in local districts, he found his way to Amsterdam where he would eventually touch the lives of many young drama students.
Delaney Crosby, an 11th grader who will play Kate in this weekend's play, said getting to work with Nelson has been a wonderful experience.
"He such a character himself," she said. "He does put his heart and soul into it. It's his mode ... working on a scene with him I pull so much out of it."
Each year, Nelson has worked with the Drama Club officers during the summer months to discuss shows they'd like to do for the coming year.
"I have not yet repeated anything (any show)," Nelson said. "We're always looking for something new, something different, something that we haven't tried before."
The club had done a Neil Simon production years ago when the group was much smaller, but Nelson was eager to bring back another Simon classic and the club officers jumped at the chance.
The semi-autobiographical sketch about Simon's family living in New York City in 1937, this year's AHS Drama Club production of "Brighton Beach Memoirs" is the perfect mix of comedy and heartfelt conflict, Nelson explained.
It has also challenged him, as the play delves into the life of a Jewish family who is trying to deal with the stories coming out of Europe at the time.
"It's been a great experience for me to explore these issues and bring them to the kids' attention, talk about them from the social studies perspective," he said. "It's been a lot of good education, a lot of good discussion, a lot of good talk."
Crosby said the play has given her a chance to get to perform a type of character she's never done before.
"The drama club's never done anything like this," she said. "And Mr. Nelson said it could be one of the best plays that we've ever done."
Crosby added that it's a play that everyone can relate to.
Nelson has "had a ball" over the years teaching the students, he said.
"It's been such a great experience coming to a community that had such a long-standing theatrical tradition."
Nelson said he feels adults have the responsibility to make sure the next generation has the kinds of experiences that he had when he was young.
"It's important that kids have these experiences that pull them out of themselves and make them realize that they live and breath in a context of other people," he said. "And there's nothing that's better than theater for that."
Maggie Bechtel, an 11th grader who will play Laurie in this weekend's show, said this will be nearly her 20th production with Nelson.
"I've a had a lot of directors and I can say that Mr. Nelson is the best," she said. "He's the most dedicated. He will be here with us as long as we need him to be. We can just show up at his room at any time and he will gladly put anything aside to help us. He's so professional, and he's know what he's doing."
"He really loves this show."
The AHS Drama Club Production of Brighton Beach Memoirs will run today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Bert DeRose Theater at Amsterdam High School.
Tickets cost $7 for adults, and $5 for seniors.