Poland Players director reaches 100th performance

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In the fall of 2001, Candy Fonagy stepped up to direct the Poland Players because there was no one else for the job.

“I thought, ‘Oh it would be terrible to not let this go on,’” she said. “I took it for that reason.”

At the time, the school secretary had no idea she would reach the milestone she did with the opening of “Bye Bye Birdie” Thursday night: Directing 100 performances.

Over the course of 18 years, dozens of shows, and countless hours spent planning shows, hosting auditions, searching for costumes and props, leading rehearsals and directing performances, Fonagy’s passion for the role hasn’t wavered.

That’s because she loves “being part of this really significant time in these kids’ lives, as they’re coming into their own, as they’re doing something they love and growing exponentially in it.”

Her tenure began with a production of the comedy “You Can’t Take It with You,” which she followed up that spring with “The Sting.”

The first musical she directed – and the only show she’s reprised – was “Bye Bye Birdie” in 2004. The show continues at 7 p.m. tonight and Saturday.

Each show has its own special moments, but a few memories stand out.

One of the toughest experiences came when her father died in 2003, the morning of dress rehearsal for the Players’ production of M*ASH.

“I had to leave for Buffalo,” she recalled. “What troopers my kids were. They put on that show without me.”

There was the opening night of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” when an actor became too sick to perform.

“We real [quickly] handed the script to another young lady and said, ‘Read it,’” said Fonagy.

There have been magical moments, too, such as when an actor ran into the theater from golf practice, leapt onto the stage and transformed into his character.

“We all stopped breathing,” Fonagy said, recalling the powerful performance.

Some current Poland Players say the program – and Fonagy – have changed their lives.

“This has been a huge impact on my life,” said junior Luke Lankitus. “I was really shy when I was younger and that’s really improved a lot.”

“I’ve improved as a public speaker. I started singing through this, and that’s been huge in my life,” he added. He’s learned “all kinds of leadership skills. Creativity. I’ve learned so much from her.”

For Fonagy, being part of that growth is the best part of the job. She believes the program benefits students far beyond teaching them how to act, sing or build sets.

“It’s the camaraderie,” she said. “You get kids from all the different ‘groups.’ We’ve got athletes. We’ve got the Academic Challenge kids. We’ve got the really artsy kids. We’ve got the band kids. We’ve got the speech kids.

“Kids that normally would have walked past each other in the hall are now working together.”

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