Spotlight on Bob Sagan, Act I

  • With Bob Sagan, the show always went on.

    Bob came to Rush-Henrietta in 1972 as an English teacher. With a passion for theater, he wanted to oversee the drama club. He quickly got to work on the fall play, choosing “The Night of January 16th” as his first production. After the success of that play, he decided to go big with a spring musical. He chose “Hello, Dolly!,” believing in the talents of the students to be able to handle the singing, dancing, and stage presence required for such a show.

    “They set Rush-Henrietta on fire,” Bob recalls. After four standing-room-only nights, “the community knew we had an amazing theater program.”

    Under Bob’s direction, the Sperry Little Theater enjoyed a long run of wildly successful shows. “Mame,” “Damn Yankees,” “Diary of Anne Frank,” and other theatrical events helped to keep that fire burning. The program changed to be called R-H Spotlight Theatre after the two high schools combined in 1987, and the Roth Royal Players entered the scene.

    Joining Bob in many of the productions were his close friends, music teachers Paul Cimicata and Roger Eckers. Paul was the musical director while Roger was the pit conductor. The three worked together so well they often read each other’s thoughts. They all had the same focus - making the experience the best it could be for the students.

    The impact these productions had on the students who took part - both onstage and behind the scenes - was life-changing. “It builds confidence and self-esteem,” Bob notes. “These kids learned how to work as a team and gained leadership skills. Building these skills leads to success in other areas of life.”

    The productions weren’t without some controversy. Bob received a complaint after the opening night of “Bye Bye Birdie” that Birdie’s gold lame’ costume was too tight. A bale of hay caught on fire during “Pippin,” but was quickly brought outside and extinguished. But “Pippin” created the most controversy simply based on the show. Although Bob explains they worked with the script and “cleaned it up so that it was appropriate for your grandmother,” another local school district was also performing the adult-themed play the same season and did not alter the script. The outcry in that district reached R-H, but Bob quickly reassured the powers-that-be of the show’s appropriateness.

    The dedication of Bob to the students and the students to Bob was never more apparent than during rehearsals for “Crazy for You” in 1998. That January, Bob was in a near-fatal car accident which left him confined to a bed for months while he healed. The students took over the rehearsals, with the lead players coming to Bob’s house to practice scenes at his bedside and share notes. Bob called upon friends in the local theater community to help work with the students at the high school and pull it all together. Bob was well enough to come to the auditorium for a dress rehearsal, and surprised with a special number the cast prepared for him, “We’re Crazy for You.” The show was standing room only every night. Bob attended each performance and beamed with pride from his wheelchair in the audience.

    Although he didn’t know it at the time, “Crazy for You” was the last production Bob directed for Spotlight Theatre. He decided to accept an early retirement incentive and took his final bow in Rush-Henrietta that year. “How this show happened - with me in a hospital bed, and all these people helping - it was one heck of a way to go out,” Bob recalls.

    After retiring, Bob worked with the Rochester Broadway Theatre League for 17 years. While there, he began the RBTL Stars of Tomorrow program, which recognizes and honors high school productions and actors. The program is still going strong and features the Bob Sagan Award for Outstanding Musical - an award he still presents in person at the ceremony. “It is thrilling for me to be able to recognize the talent of these students in a public setting,” he says. In addition, Bob developed several programs working with educators to teach them how to bring the theater to the classroom and the classroom to the theater. 

    Over the years, Bob has worked with thousands of students, both on stage and behind the scenes. Twenty-four years after retiring, Bob is still in touch with many former students. We will hear from some of them in the next installment.

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