Final curtain call for Glenelg theater teacher

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Final curtain call for Glenelg theater teacher

Lining the hallway from Susan Miller's classroom at Glenelg High School to the stage area is a colorful display of painted blocks representing each student that has graduated from the school's theatre program.

Walking through the hall, Miller goes from block to block, pointing, and either telling a story about that student or where they are today.

At the end of the vibrant hallway is Miller's piece of the wall. It includes her name and the following quote: 'Because I knew you, I have been changed for good."

Taken from the popular musical "Wicked," Miller says that phrase sums up her 16-year career at Glenelg.

"This is my history here, it's a piece of my history," she said.

The longtime theatre teacher is finishing up preparations for what will be her final production at Glenelg this week. Miller has announced that she will retire at the end of this school year.

Over the years, Miller has organized 48 school productions and fostered the talents of countless successful alumni, including Caroline Bowman and Margo Seibert, both of whom have gone on to perform on Broadway.

"What I love most about Glenelg is the genuineness of the parents and the kids. There's no divas here," Miller said. "The kids really root for each other and I really love that athletes are happy to be a part of the performing arts department. It's cool to be in performing arts here, and I love that."

Beginning Thursday, Miller's students will perform "Hello, Dolly!" a classic American musical comedy — celebrating its 50th birthday this year — that follows a larger-than-life character who enjoys meddling in others' affairs in New York City.

The show features more than 90 students, including 20 band members and 63 cast members.

Students admit that they are feeling an added layer of pressure to put on a great show since it will be Miller's last.

"It's such an honor to be a part [of it], because she's like a legend here," said Ray Robinson, a junior who is playing the role of Barnaby Tucker.

Most of the lead performers in "Hello, Dolly!" will be going onto college next year with the intention of studying performing arts.

Miller's students rave about how caring and loving their teacher is, adding that she is tough on them, but strikes a good balance of being silly and getting down to business.

"She's like our second mom," said Lola Fadiran, who will be playing the lead role of Dolly Levi in the production.

Miller, who lives in Annapolis, said she believed now is the right time for her to retire — her husband recently retired as well.

In retirement, she plans to travel, catch up with former students and watch some of those students, like Bowman and Seibert, perform.

"It's got to be the epitome of a drama teacher's life to see your student on Broadway," Miller said.

Students credit Miller with giving them a variety of roles and shows to perform, ranging from classicals like "Hello, Dolly!" to modern shows like "Footloose" or "The Little Mermaid."

For Miller, she says it's her responsibility to provide students with diverse opportunities and have them try new roles before they graduate.

"It's incredible to see them take the journey of the character," she said. "I always say to them, 'I don't want you to act. I want you to be the character.' "

Kaylee Robinson, a senior who will be performing in her ninth show under Miller, said her experiences with the Glenelg theatre department have been "undescribable" and are experiences that have made her both a stronger performer and a stronger person.

"I cannot imagine what my life would be like without this program," she said.

Zoe Robinson, student director of "Hello, Dolly!" called Miller a great director and mentor through the three years that she has helped manage performances at Glenelg.

"When you're on stage, you want to get direction from Mrs. Miller," said Robinson, a Glenelg senior. "She's that kind of director, to where you want to listen to her, you want to make her vision come true."

Kassidy Sharp, a 2007 Glenelg graduate, is one of Miller's many former students who check back in on the program after graduation.

Sharp, who currently directs shows at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia, is choreographing "Hello, Dolly!"

"I love being able to collaborate and to work with her," Sharp said of working so closely with Miller on this show. "It's such an honor that she trusts me and it's amazing that she lets me work with the kids."

Cree Menefee, a 2003 Glenelg graduate and a volunteer for Miller's school productions since 2010, called coming back to Glenelg to help out a "sense of duty."

"She builds a family," Menefee said. "She cares about each of her kids very honestly and that's the kind of person you want to continue to help."

"Hello, Dolly!" opens March 5 at 7 p.m. Additional performances are March 6 at 7 p.m., March 7 at 2 and 7 p.m. and March 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at the school office, or at the door for $10.

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