Show must go on: VB drama teacher refuses to let stage 4 cancer stop him from helping students

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A production of “Shrek” at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach seems like a fitting reminder of what many would say is the toughest year for college students ever.

Everything takes place under the watchful eye of director Nancy Curtis, who has seen her share of shows.

“I think there might be something wrong with me in the sense that I only left high school for four years and then I went back and never got out.” laughed Curtis.

She has been at First Colonial for almost four decades.

“She’s probably the most recognizable face still here,” said Ben Lattimer, senior at First Colonial. “It’s cliché, but she’s the glue that binds us together.”

“She’s still here,” added Elizabeth Sampsell senior. “She doesn’t just work for shows, but for us.”

As she watches her comedy come to life, she experiences tragedy.

“They always say there’s too much drama in the drama department, but it’s not the only place,” Curtis added.

“Did you ever talk about the loss of his family earlier this year? Zack Kattwinkel asked. Kattwinkel is one of Curtis’ alumni and is now an English teacher at the school.

“I don’t think I have yet accepted that he is a [gone]”Curtis said.” Yeah sorry. “

In January, Curtis’ only son, Sky, died suddenly from underlying heart disease. Before she could get to his house, he was gone. He was only 32 years old.

“He was a wonderful person and a great friend, and he had good friends,” added Curtis.

It’s nights like this that provide Curtis with a distraction from all his pain.

“When we found out I was talking to her because I knew she was going to be away for a long time,” said First Colonial Music Director Luke Walker.

“I knew I was having trouble breathing,” Curtis added.

Right after Sky’s death, Curtis was ill. She thought it was due to stress.

“I expected to hear that I had pneumonia,” she said. “I didn’t expect to hear that I had lung cancer. When they admitted me, I was pretty sick, and I didn’t know I was so sick.

She went from life stage to stage 4.

“Honestly, I’m not afraid, but I have to take care of my husband,” she added. “He does a great job taking care of me. “

“It was unsettling,” said Madelyn Resnick, junior at First Colonial. “We thought we were all very vulnerable. We really didn’t know what was going on.

Curtis refused to let the disease slow her down.

“It’s interesting because she will always say things like ‘the old woman is getting impatient. We have to start this stuff, “but a diagnosis like this really reminds you that she’s human,” Kattwinkel added.

“You see someone like that, and you have this perspective of them that they’re like invincible, like almost nothing can touch her,” Lattimer said. “She’s on such a high pedestal and all of a sudden it’s happening. It’s like when you heard Muhammad Ali had Parkinson’s disease.

Curtis prefers to stay behind the scenes, always out of the spotlight.

“It’s not about me, it’s about them,” Curtis said.

“In her opinion, if she gets attention, it’s not about the students anymore,” Walker added.

“She always said this department isn’t here, it’s about us,” Resnick said.

But it is far from being his last act.

“I can’t imagine it getting any worse, but there are people who have suffered worse,” Curtis said.

Because she knows the number one rule in the theater: the show must go on.

“I know everyone thinks I have a stamped expiration date now and maybe that is true, but I need the kids to feel like the world is solid again,” said added Curtis.


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