Testimonial #34: Elizabeth Sophia Strauss, Production Assistant for Transport Group Theatre Company on Almost, Maine

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to play the trumpet. I even remember in second grade writing a short story called “The Little Trumpet.” Then when I was in third grade, the Music Director for my Elementary School, Mark Abbonizio, came to music class one day and did the yearly Instrument Petting Zoo. I was so excited to see an older student show off trumpet skills. It made me feel even cooler that a girl was showcasing the trumpet that day. We had to choose additional instruments to pursue if our first choice was not available. Fortunately, after listing trumpet as my first choice, Mr. Abbonizio approached me in the hallway and told me he would love to have at least one girl in the trumpet section next year. I was filled with such joy and enthusiasm that I could not contain myself when the beginning of the school came around and my mother took me to get my first trumpet. It was there, at the music store in East Setauket, that I knew the trumpet would be something very special in my life. It was not until eleventh grade when the Director of the Wind Ensemble at my High School, Christine Creighton, mentioned pit orchestra to me that I finally joined my high school’s annual musical. While I was in high school I was in the pit orchestra for A 60’s Revue and The Boy Friend. Being involved in those shows brought me such joy, and never before had I been around people whose passion for musical theater was as great as mine.

Trumpet was my avenue to the performing arts. Without the guidance of educators like Mr. Abbonizio and Ms. Creighton, I would not have been able to work with people such as Jeffrey Sanzel at Theatre Three or Jenny Gersten and Stephen M. Kaus at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

I have now worked on my first New York play post-grad with Director Evan Cabnet and award-winning playwright Donald Margulies at Primary Stages. My next Off-Broadway project will be on the Stage Management Team for Transport Group’s Almost, Maine, working alongside the playwright himself John Cariani and Director Jack Cummings III.

Every theater professional I encounter now is a teacher to me as well. But I will always consider the teachers who first set me on the path to theater as the ones who utilized the arts to allow me to become who I am today.

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

I have been lucky enough to grow up in a community that greatly values the arts. Fortunately, it has not been a matter of reigniting, as there has been a long-standing commitment to the arts here in Port Jefferson. In elementary school, there were several opportunities for the students to work alongside Mary Seidman and Karen De Mauro as part of the Port Jefferson School District’s Artists-in-Residence program. Additionally, my high school has always has been host to the Amy Tyler School of Dance annual production of The Nutcracker. The dance company features artists from around the world, so that the community has the opportunity to see a top-notch performance without having to leave Port Jefferson. The Music Department in my school district has done a lot of innovative programming as well.

Not only does Port Jefferson have an Arts Council – which is a platform for music, theater, visual art, and dance – Port Jefferson is also home to the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Despite growing up in a small town, I have had the good fortune to be exposed to a full range of the performing arts, which left a profound influence on me.

One of the best performance venues on Long Island is right here in Port Jefferson, Theatre Three, which is considered: “Broadway on Main Street”. I have seen everything from their annual A Christmas Carol to The Sound of Music. In fact, my first internship in theater was on Theatre Three’s Production of The Who’s: Tommy as their Assistant Stage Manager.