The arts work: The seed for my success was planted by the Guilderland Players

To the Editor:

I addressed this to the Guilderland Board of Education:

I want to speak to you about the importance that the GCHS musical program played in my life and the essential exposure to the arts that this program brings to high school students and the importance of introducing middle school students to this program at the eighth-grade level.

I became involved with the Guilderland Players during my senior year in 1973. It proved to be an incredible magnet for my interests (electrical, lighting, sound, music, theatre) and an outlet where I could explore and expand my knowledge and my abilities to work, interactively, as a part of a team of people, joining together to achieve a singular project goal.

I returned the year after graduating to be employed by the Guilderland Players as their lighting designer. That year, I was offered a position at Saratoga Performing Arts Center by the company, Specialized Audio, that provided the sound system for the musical.

I took that job offer and spent the next 18 years as the head of sound for SPAC, working with such artists and performing organizations as Philadelphia Orchestra, New York City Ballet, Newport/Kool Jazz fest, and over 500 of the most popular artists of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

I continued to be involved with the Guilderland Players’ musical for several years after.

Because of my job at SPAC. I had the privilege of being in the presence of George Balanchine for 10 summer residences at SPAC — four weeks, six days a week of ballet rehearsals. I worked with some of the greatest ballet choreographers, conductors, and orchestra musicians.

We also worked with most of the popular touring artists of that time, from 1974 to 1993, in all genres of rock, folk, jazz, and popular artists.

This association with Specialized Audio, the company that provided the sound for the Guilderland Players, resulted in other work that included gigs with Frank Sinatra, 13 years of Miss America Pageants, and countless corporate meetings for Fortune 500 clients such as GE, IBM, and Apple.

In 1985, I entered into an agreement to buy out the owner and take on the company.  Since then, our company, SAVI, has developed into one of the premier audio, video designers and providers for the performing-arts business.

Our projects include over 30 major installations in Las Vegas for showrooms, theatres, convention centers, entertainment arenas, restaurants, and shopping malls. We have consulted and designed several projects overseas in Singapore and Macau.

We have recently completed projects for BSO-Symphony Hall Boston and Tanglewood, Shea’s Theatre – Buffalo, Fox Theatre- Atlanta and Riverside Church in New York City.

We are currently designing and building projects for Caffe Lena, Universal Preservation Hall, Saratoga and PS-21 in Chatham, New York.

I can trace back all of this success to the exposure, influence, and inspiration provided by my exposure to the arts as a result of my experience with the Guilderland Players — the seed that was planted with me at GCHS by the Guilderland Players.

I find it very shortsighted that the district would take this stance and deny large-scale exposure of such a valuable learning incentive as the ability to bus the entire eighth-grade class to a free performance of the Guilderland Players’ musical. This could be the career turning point for any of these students, if they were given the exposure.

I have to profess dismay and disagreement with the current trend to favor sports activities support over music, theater, and the arts. Every school — be it elementary, middle, high school or college — has a responsibility to expose students to a panorama of legitimate career choices and then nurture these chosen directions.

Music, theater, and the creative arts are viable, productive avenues for employment and business opportunities in our present world.  The creative economy of artists, musicians, performers, designers, composers, and technicians does provide a viable, successful career opportunity equivalent to any STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] career path and certainly provides a more solid lifelong career than a sports model.

I implore you to reconsider your position on the restriction of middle school students attending the Guilderland Players’ musical performances. Had I not been exposed to the production of “Guys and Dolls” by the Guilderland Players, the creative seed may never have been sown and my life, my career, my business, and the 100 or so people that have been employed by my company, SAVI, may never have occurred.

The arts work!

Michael Cusick, president

SAVI

Editor’s note: See related story.

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