MARK GILLESPIE/Livingston County News
Bob Sagan, Director of Education and Community Engagement for the Rochester Broadway Theater League, presents Chuck D’Imperio with the national Broadway League’s “Apple Award.”
Livonia Middle School
Livonia principal earns national Broadway education award
It all started with a trip to New York City in 1993 — where a wheelchair-bound Bob Sagan was being pushed around Manhattan by a young assistant principal at Rush-Henrietta Central School named Chuck D’Imperio.
Sagan, now retired from teaching, is the Director of Education and Community Engagement for the Rochester Broadway Theater League.
He presented D’Imperio, now principal at Livonia Middle School with The Broadway League’s “Apple Award” for theatre education.
D’Imperio is one of four educators in the country to receive the award from The League, the national trade association for the Broadway industry and producer of the Tony Awards.
During a break in a school concert Friday, Sagan explained to an audience of middle school students how D’Imperio’s experience seeing a live Broadway musical has led to one of the nation’s most innovative arts education programs.
“Seeing that play was a changing moment in his life,” said Sagan, who explained how D’Imperio wanted students to have the same experience.
For each of the past four years, Livonia Middle School, under D’Imperio’s leadership, has incorporated a Rochester Broadway Theater League musical into the year’s curriculum.
The first program featured the musical The Lion King, and ask students the play’s central question, “Who lives in you?” At school, students were engaged in lessons that showed how disparate factors of their lives were related — including music, poetry, social studies, science, culture and tradition.
Two years ago, a project based on the play Wicked explored how “Elphaba,” the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, was twisted by the harassment of school bullies into one of cinema’s most famous bullies.
“We tried to explain to kids how the color of her skin — being green — led to intolerance,” D’Imperio told The County News Friday. “We also had a chance to talk about women in leadership positions.”
“It was great to be able to show sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls these strong female characters and have them say, ‘I matter.’”
A series of field trips also help Livonia students get a sense of the stagecraft that goes into a traveling Broadway production.
“The first thing we do is take them up to Rochester to see a ‘naked stage’ with no equipment on it to give them a chance to see how things work. We also do a day of career development with the actors, the business manager, the shop keepers — and a whole bunch of different careers.”
The culmination of the experience is the actual show. “I love to watch their faces during the performance. Some are laughing, some are crying — and some are just having a blast.”
“It is so worth the time, the money and the effort. It’s phenomenal.”
D’Imperio spends the time and effort he mentions on grantwriting and fundraising to cover the theater tickets and trips to the city. “He raises the necessary funds to make it possible for every student to have this experience.”
During his presentation, Sagan read comments from David Peck, a former Livonia teacher: “In my 34 years of experience, I have never seen an administrator with such a passion for the good things that the arts can provide. You cannot argue with the guy, because you know he’s right.”
Indeed, Sagan pointed out that “League Apple Awards “are most commonly given to teachers, not principals — although three of the 17 awards The Broadway League has handed out have gone to educators in the Rochester area.
D’Imperio had a chance at the end of the presentation to address his students directly.
“Test scores are important, but more important is deciding what kind of human being you’re going to be,” he said.
“I look forward to the future, because when I look at you today, I’m full of hope.”
The other “Apple Award” winners are from Harlem, N.Y.; Okemos, Mich.; and Baltimore, Md.