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Boonsboro High English and drama teacher reflects on career

Michael J. Bair says his latest production of 'The Tempest' will 'cover every aspect of theater'

May 04, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Boonsboro High School English and drama teacher Michael Bair sits on the set during a rehearsal of "The Tempest," Bair's 50th production during his 20 years at Boonsboro High School.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO — "Like a blur" is how Michael J. Bair describes his 20 years at Boonsboro High School.

He was reminded of his two decades as an English and drama teacher after receiving an email of employee anniversaries from the Washington County Board of Education.

A little more math led to the realization that this weekend's performance of "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare would be Bair's 50th production at the high school.

"This production single-handedly is the most expensive, elaborate we've tried pulling off here. It's really a celebration for me of everything I've done in 20 years," Bair said.

With projected animation, six "little ditties," a full ballet piece and a movie that was shot with 40 costumed students on the USS Constellation in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the audience has many surprises in store.

"Everything you can put in one show is in this one show. It covers every aspect of theater in this one production," Bair said.

With a large number of drama students graduating this year, it is also a way to showcase their talents.

"It will be back to scratch next year," Bair said.

Bair, who also teaches digital photography and cinematography, has gotten some of his students started on the archiving of posters and memorabilia from past drama productions. That has brought back a flood of memories for Bair.  

"All the posters of shows, I remember all the kids," said Bair, 45.

Bair went to a small Catholic school outside of Pittsburgh, where he was involved mostly in athletics. But with only 56 in his graduating class, all the students had to be involved when the school put on a drama production. Classes would cease for about two weeks to pull it together, Bair said.

He went to Penn State University to become an English teacher with drama as his concentration. Believing that connections led to teaching jobs in the Pittsburgh area, Bair — "refusing to play that game and wanting to make a name for myself" — said he learned of the Boonsboro High job, interviewed for it and got it.

Bair laughs as he recalls that the man who interviewed him turned out to be a second or third cousin, something he didn't realize at the time.

Over the years, Bair has had great parent support, but takes pride in the fact that Boonsboro High productions are almost exclusively student-produced. As a result, the program has become so popular, Bair has to turn students away.

Some shows "would be a disaster, but you have to learn by failing miserably," said Bair, adding that it would have been easy for him to rush in and fix things, to the detriment of the students.

"I'm a huge believer in making kids accountable. I make them responsible for every aspect ultimately," Bair said.  

Bair is revisiting "The Tempest," a production performed by his students about 10 years ago. He never felt the production reached its full potential. He recently realized it was because he didn't like the ending Shakespeare had written, so Bair rewrote it.

"A lot of people think I'm horrifically arrogant for rewriting Shakespeare. I went back and found out he (Shakespeare) didn't like this play or the ending," Bair said.  

 Bair said he promised his wife of 16 years, Rebecca, that he would only do one production a year once their first child, who is 13, was born. Unable to keep that promise, because of his commitment to the program and students, Bair's three sons have grown up around their father's live student performances and have gotten involved as they've gotten older.

"My wife understands what I do. She gets it — since Day 1," Bair said.

Performances of "The Tempest" will be in the Boonsboro High Auditorium on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 5 to 7, at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. show on Saturday, May 7. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and children.

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A synopsis of Bair's rewritten ending of 'The Tempest'

"Prospero, banished Duke of Milan, flees to a deserted island with his young daughter Miranda. While on the island, he becomes a master of magic and wizardry. Many years pass, and the banished Prospero finds that his uprising brother, Antonio, and former king, Alonso, are sailing near the island. In a spirit of vindication, the duke conjures a tempest that drives his brother and king to his island.

"As a result, Prospero finds a tempest brewing within himself; is it revenge or reconciliation that he desires? Along the way, he manages to find a suitable mate, Ferdinand, the king's son, for his daughter. In the end, Prospero must decide between creating tempests in the skies or calming them within his spirit."

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