By Abby Herbert
After 33 years of hard work and dedication, Mr. and Mrs. Wagner are taking their final bow as directors of Manheim Township Performing Arts (MTPA). With what would’ve been 66 shows — without the effects of COVID-19 — the Wagners’ retirement will forever leave a hole in the Manheim Township Performing Arts Program (MTPA) and the Manheim Township Music Department.
During the fall of 1987, Mr. Wagner started at Manheim Township High School as a teacher in the music department. At the time, Township was looking for MTPA directors as well, so Mr. and Mrs. Wagner thought that it would be a good fit for them to start directing shows together, considering that Mrs. Wagner has a degree in musical theatre. As their family started to grow, they all got along quite well and worked on shows together.
While they have seen many students come and go, the Wagners have observed that the size of MTPA has always stayed about the same. However, one thing that they’ve noticed is that the students of today participate in more activities than just MTPA; now it’s “not just that they do shows. They do shows and they do a lot of other things” said Mrs. Wagner. However, even though students today have a lot more on their plant than they used to, they still manage to put in an immense amount of hardwork and effort towards the shows, according to the Wagners. They also said that the students in MTPA want to do a great job—which always helps to make the productions even better.
According to Mr. Wagner, it was “always a highlight to see where they are when we start a rehearsal process and then see where they end up [by then end]”; “No one really gets to see that but us,” said Mrs. Wagner. They both really enjoyed getting to know the kids of MTPA because “they are awesome,” stated Mrs. Wagner. However, one of hardest struggles during this process was trying to work around all of the students’ busy schedules and prior commitments, according to the Wagners. Nowadays “students are stretched thinner” with school and extracurriculars, so it makes it difficult sometimes to work around their schedules, said Mr. Wagner.
After completing 65 shows with MTPA, the Wagners have a hard time zeroing in one just one favorite. “I love different shows for different reasons” stated Mrs. Wagner, “sometimes it’s the cast, or something that happened along the way,”. They said that instead of just having one favorite production, they have more like a list of shows that they’ve enjoyed working on. Mamma Mia would have been their 66th production at Township, but due to the effects of COVID-19 this most likely will not be put on. This makes their retirement and departure from Township just a little more heart wrenching.
MTPA was a huge part of Mr. Wagner’s job at Manheim Township, however he also worked in the music department with the Chorus and Troubadours. Not to mention he taught a Musical Theatre course as well. So not only did he leave a huge imprint on MTPA, but he was also a huge part of the Manheim Township Music department as a whole.
Many of their past students have also carried out jobs in the production industry. A student of theirs, Mike Thatcher, was one of their first students to appear on Broadway and the Wagners even traveled to New York to see him perform. The Wagners stated that they’ve had a lot of students do many different things within the industry. Whether it be performing on Broadway, having small roles in movies and tv shows, or even working behind the scenes during shows and movies.
MTPA alum Alex Dorf, who appeared in the “Cats” national tour, said that “[the Wagners] instilled a sense of work ethic and confidence that has lasted [him] long past high school”. Alex was a part of the Manheim Township class of 2012 and was a member of MTPA all four years of his high school career. Alex mentioned that the Wagners are really chill, down to earth people and he really cherished the moments he had with them—especially when he would be able to have one on one conversations with just him and Mrs. Wagner. He also said that the Wagners put in effort to try to have a good relationship will almost all of the students involved in the production; “The Wagners always brought an element of fun and humor to their professionalism and I think one thing everyone can agree upon from MTPA is that the Wagners were what made our time there the most enjoyable” said Alex.
Not only did MTPA prepare students for the professional acting and film industry, the Wagners said that it helped students going into other professions as well. “People talk about how much they’ve learned in MTPA for whatever career they’re doing now,” Said Mrs. Wagner. According to Mr. Wagner, many of their students who have gone on to become attorneys, or who have run for public office, have said that MTPA has taught them how to speak in large groups and how to handle people well.
The Wagners have also had a tremendous impact on current MTPA members as well. A number of them have made videos, or written quotes about how they Wagners have impacted their time at Manheim Township High School. These quotes can be seen here.
One of the things the Wagners said that they’re going to miss the most are the students. Because the process of putting on a production is a huge team effort, the Wagners have managed to create extremely close bonds with many of the students they’ve gotten to work with—making their retirement very emotional for the students of MTPA. However, the Wagners have said that they will definitely be coming back to see future productions at Manheim Township. “They say we’re going to be the biggest fans in the audience,” said Mrs. Wagner.