Port Summer show celebrates 50th Anniversary

Port Summer show celebrates 50th Anniversary

You can find a lot of life in a 50-year-old institution.
My wife and I came to Port Washington seven years ago, right after our twins finished elementary school in Manhattan.

City middle schools and the tug of being closer to extended family largely drove the move. In the back of my mind, however, I had another reason.

As they edged into adolescence, both girls were developing an interest in theater. New York City is the global capital for seeing theater, but that status can make opportunities for participating in it overwhelmingly limited. I knew they’d have to look elsewhere if they ever wanted to be on stage.
Port Washington offers exactly that.
The Port Summer Show is a non-profit community theater that puts on a Broadway-style musical the first weekend of every August.

Every July – right from the end of the school year – is a breakneck rehearsal schedule. The cast is exclusively neighborhood teens and everyone who auditions is guaranteed a place on the stage. And it’s not some fly-by-night summer activity: PSS has been doing this every year since 1972.
Once my kids found this opportunity, it became the constant of our summer plans. At their insistence, they could go to day camps, but not sleepaways. Vacations could be taken in August, never before.

Dinners should be early enough for them to digest before evening rehearsals. Their mother, younger sister, and I, bent our own schedules to accommodate theirs. This is what families do.
The show is produced by parents. Eager for their kids to have something constructive to do each summer, parents raise money, build sets, sew costumes, chaperone rehearsals, all as volunteers. I soon found summer to be the most exhausting season of the year as I scrambled to do everything in time for opening night.
This is what parents do.
These efforts light the spotlight for every kid on that stage. From the deepest background player to the titular lead, the glow of performance shines. That’s just on stage. Behind the scenes, they learn about work, about struggle and practice and the thousand failures that evolve into success.

They learn that shirking your responsibilities hurts those who rely on you. They learn about greater goods. They learn that the spotlight itself is a surface illusion and that the truly meaningful experiences happen outside the glare.
My kids are doing the show for the last time. Port Summer Show allows you to perform through the summer after high school and my kids head to college in another month. Special experiences are special in part because they end. Mostly they’re special because of the people. Within the brash extravaganza of musical theater you can always find quiet humanity pulsing within.
During this production, my girls have witnessed the drive of several others caught in their own personal stories, explicitly shared or not. They’ve seen the work ethic of the production manager who became a dad one week into rehearsals: working on little or no sleep he single-handedly plans and directs the building of sets and lighting.

They’ve seen the fortitude of a fellow cast member whose own father passed away a few months ago, but who invests his own last show with the emotional richness of his moment. They’ve seen the parent volunteer who was a Summer Show kid herself as a teen, and has now returned to Port Washington as a recent widow with her own child in the cast.

Some families have more money, some have less. Some of the kids are heading off to the most elite universities in the world; some are charging right into the workforce. These are the colors that my kids get to join every night. The spectrum is what we’ll all get to see when the curtain goes up.
We came to Long Island so that our kids could experience something we couldn’t find living in the city. For the most part, Port Summer Show has been that something. On the show’s golden anniversary, coinciding with the last few weeks before my kids head off to college as adults, their contributions blend into this community’s history. Wherever they go from here, they’ll have that as a foundation, which is all I’ve tried to provide.
This is what parents do.
You can find a lot of life in a 50-year-old institution.

Douglas Parker
Port Washington.

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