Tucked away in the basement of the Fine Arts Center, three offices in the costume shop belong to professors of theater and dance. Behind the second door, colorful lights are strung across the ceiling, bookshelves are stacked high with plays and scripts, and relics of theater department shows past lays in every corner, including a giant “D” for D’ysquith, which was used for their last musical production of “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
The office belongs to none other than Harry McEnerny, acting and directing professor, and soon he will begin to pack up his cozy office as he begins his retirement after 25 years at Castleton University.
“I want to give a lot of this to students,” he said, referring to the stuff in his office and what he’s going to take with him. “So I’m going to start with the stuff that I want, like that has meaning to me.”
He pointed out a Shakespeare head bust, a quilted collage from a former student, and of course, many posters of previous shows.
McEnerny came to Castleton University 25 years ago, living in Virginia at the time with his wife, professor of education Monica McEnerny, and two kids. He got his MFA in directing and said “come and get me.”
He applied for positions in the south, like Louisiana where he was born, and cool places maybe he’d want to move to, like Oregon or Washington.
But nobody came and got him.
“Just if there’s anything out there then just send resumes, go, go, go, go go. Because I knew if I can get an interview, I can talk my way into the job. And then I saw an ad for this position at Castleton,” he said. “I applied for it, got an interview, I flew up on Mother’s Day weekend, and was offered a position. I had never been farther north than New York City.”
During his time here, McEnerny has not only taught acting and directing courses and been an advisor for theater arts majors, he has also directed many, many shows – so many, you lose track.
But he doesn’t necessarily have a favorite.
“I believe this: your favorite show is always a show that you’re currently working on. It has to be,” he said.
But he did speak fondly of many shows including “Spring Awakening,” saying it’s “one of the best shows we have ever done,” and “Romeo and Juliet,” where he cast a female to play Romeo.
“I am getting to the point in my career here that I’m looking back, we’ve got all these pictures on the wall up there and then I walk by, I look back on every single one with fondness,” he said. “Every single one. I don’t think we did bad plays. The entire time I was here I don’t think we did a bad play.”
Though McEnerny values every single play and musical he has directed, what he values more is the students.
“I will always take working with students over anything else. In class, on shows,” he said. “That’s the thing I’m going to remember, that’s what I’m going to miss most, is just working with students.”
And students love McEnerny just as much, and his relationships with students is something that is extremely notable. In April, many theater department alumni got together to celebrate his retirement.
“I’d say that Harry and I have a particular relationship that not everybody gets to have,” said senior musical theater major Daniel Jackson. “He cares for all of his students, but we have a sort of father and son relationship. Every time I have a problem or some juicy gossip about my shenanigans, Harry is always there to hear it and give his advice.”
Kathryn Osburn, a freshman, agrees.
“I feel like I have built a strong bond with Harry over my year here and I attribute that with his unique teaching style, and just how wonderful a person he is in general,” she said. “I remember back to the first day of classes and I was so nervous about what the professors would be. Harry was the first person I met because he was my connections professor, and so when he came in the door, the first thing he did was tell a joke. I knew he was going to be the only professor like him and push me with my acting.”
Caira Adams, a sophomore, says that there is rarely a time when his door is not open for visitors, which is greatly appreciated.
McEnerny recognizes that he has impacted countless students’ lives, and when asked what that meant to him, he told the story of a former colleague who was retiring, and when McEnerny asked “aren’t you concerned about your legacy?” his colleague replied, “the students are my legacy.”
And that’s just how McEnerny feels.
“[Students] have gone out into the big bad world, and some of them become nurses, and some of them become teachers, and they’ve become the RadioShack employees and Verizon employees. And then some of them are doing theater full time, and some of them are in touring companies for national plays and all of that stuff,” he said. “But I hope that they’re better at it because of an experience that they had here.”
McEnerny said that that is why he likes liberal arts colleges, like Castleton, because you’re helping with the development of a person, rather than an actor.
“I’ve really enjoyed seeing people, you know, from the time they’re 18, to the time they’re 22. They are different people, and if I can help them in some way…” he trailed off. “And I think that you could find people that think ‘that guy didn’t help me at all,’ doesn’t mean I didn’t try.”
For students like Jackson, Osburn, and Adams, they are going to miss McEnerny, but he is ready to let go, and help someone else come in to help with development of the theater department, especially with the merger.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to miss them too.
He explained that when he is starting a play, he usually picks a moment to aim for that moment to be a transformative moment. But then that part ends up not being the most interesting part, it ends up somewhere else. He used this to explain how at some point, him not coming back will hit him, like maybe in August when he would usually start getting ready for another semester.
“My mother passed away in 1996 right before I got this job, and sometimes something will happen when I go ‘Oh, I should call…oh,’” he said. “So I expect something like that. But I don’t know when that’s gonna be.”