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April 10, 2012

Broken legs, killed audiences: Chris Bundy and David Longest end their momentous careers with theater programs

FLOYD COUNTY — The fat lady is about to sing for two educational theater powerhouses who have each spent about three decades turning students into bona fide thespians.

Chris Bundy and David Longest, directors of the theater programs at Floyd Central and New Albany high schools, respectively, will take their final bows and retire at the end of this school year.

Between them, they’ve seen several of their students go on to big stages and the silver screen, but they’ve also taken their shows and students to national and international contests.

While their final curtain call is coming up, both agree that the show will go on.

THE KIND MONSTER

Longest and Bundy said long hours, late nights and week-long stretches in school were part of the job. Though both directors start their days with the rest of the faculty in their schools, Longest said it’s not uncommon for both of them to be the ones to lock their buildings up after the last custodians head out.

But he said getting there early and staying late helped the programs and the students become successful.

“Chris and I joke about the monster we grew that we just have to keep on feeding, but he’s a kind monster,” Longest said. “I never would have dreamed that I would have had a program this big and my kids would have gone on to Broadway and movies, I never would have guessed I’d have this.”

Bundy said he and Longest have always pushed their kids to do their best, and the programs have reaped the benefits from the dedication of the students.

“We’re probably the most respected programs in this half of the nation,” Bundy said. “Everybody knows our programs. You say that at the National Thespian Festivals, they know who New Albany is, they know who Floyd Central is. They know, competition-wise ... they hate when they see I’m having something reviewed because they know it’s probably going to go.”

Both directors have won awards, most recently with Bundy’s receiving the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award. The award gives each recipient $10,000 and is showcased with students they inspired on a website.

Floyd Central has taken 13 shows to the International Thespian Festival — an invitation-only event where schools across the country pit their shows against other programs — and he’s been with every school he’s ever taught.

“People come and see these finished shows and they think they just happen,” Bundy said. “They have no idea how much time and effort has gone into them.”

The schools have been featured in reviews in big-name newspapers and a premium cable channel’s documentary. Floyd Central’s program has also been to Fringe Fest, a theater festival in Scotland, four times. But Bundy said the primary aim was never to compete for recognition.

“We’re not out to win awards,” Bundy said. “We’re doing what we do correctly. Those things just come to you. When you’re doing what you need to do and the kids are doing what they want and need to do, those things just come to you.”

Though the two state-of-the-art, multimillion dollar facilities help make for great shows, Longest said he and Bundy both worked their way up to those facilities. But he said neither of them would have ever made the programs as huge as they are without the support of the community.

“I still feel very, very young,” Longest said. “I’m just starting to realize that as I look around my classroom, the school system, everyone that supports us. Both of us live in pretty comfortable kingdoms. We’ve kind of been allowed to live in a comfortable kingdom where we get to do our own creative endeavors. We’ve really been able to do whatever we want to do, and that’s the reason we’ve flourished.”

Tom Weatherston, the theater director at both high schools before Longest and Bundy, said Longest was a student of his while he was in high school. He said watching him take his spot and continue to make the program grow was very rewarding.

“He’s continued, he’s expanded in many ways, he’s offered experiences to a great many young people,” Weatherston said. “He will be missed, I’m sure.”

Louis Jensen, director of high schools and former principal at Floyd Central, said he’s known Bundy from other schools where they’ve both worked. He said Bundy’s approach to teaching was something he wanted to see mimicked in other classrooms.

“He never accepted when a student said ‘I cant’,” Jensen said. “That was never part of his vocabulary, and I think that’s what you have to do. You don’t lower your expectations, you raise them.”

He said while many programs at Floyd Central often got national attention in one fashion or another, he was proud Bundy helped add to the school’s notoriety.

“That was just kind of the bar we set at the school, you want to continue to be better than you are,” Jensen said. “It was just exciting to be a part of that. Whatever Chris did never surprised me. I knew that his dreams could take him as high as he wanted to go.”

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