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MAKING A MARK: Longtime theater director at First Colonial High School set to retire

Nancy Curtis has led the theater department at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach for four decades. She officially retires at the end of the school year.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It's the final curtain for a local legend.

After 40 years and one last production of the musical "Guys and Dolls," First Colonial High School theater director Nancy Curtis is retiring.

"I know it's the right thing. I know, I know why I'm making this choice now," Curtis said. "I'm never [going to] be ready to leave the kids, ever. And they need new."

Since 1981, the drama teacher most known simply as "Curtis" has directed more than 200 shows for the Patriot Playhouse -- by any means necessary.

"I think that it is a myth that theater production ever existed before Xerox machines or masking tape," Curtis said.

She's taught hundreds of First Colonial students over the years.

"I have the best kids on the planet. I always have," said Curtis. "I learn probably a great deal more from them than they've ever gotten from me."

Many of her former students are now professional actors, including a name that may sound familiar.

"I'm sure you mean Mark Ruffalo," Curtis smiled. "He came and asked me if I thought that he could make it... And I told him that, 'Absolutely,' but it was a matter of how badly he wanted it, and how much he wanted to work for it."

Curtis has had a career marked by triumphs, even amid tragedy. In January of 2021, she lost her 32-year-old son, Sky.

"Sky was, um, just this big teddy bear," she said. "He was a good friend to everybody who needed, like, everybody who needed it."

"He was ill, and we didn't really know how ill. And then, ultimately, he passed away very, very unexpectedly," Curtis said. "He was a big guy, and he left a really big hole in my heart."

Soon after, Curtis received more devastating news.

"I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer about a month later. Uh, lymphoma," she said. "So, the recovery was, was tough. But my oncologist... treated me very aggressively, and I got to come back to work. And the kids."

Through it all, her students said she remained the same.

"She was there like nothing really happened," said Andrew Truitt, a junior at First Colonial. "Um, she'd be out for a day or two... But other than that, she was always there, like, ready to help."

"She always greets us with 'Good morning campers!' no matter what time of day it is," said Madelyn Resnick, student director with the Patriot Playhouse. "It really meant a lot to us that she meant to continue on."

As she readies for her final bow at the high school, Curtis said a special part of her will always remain at First Colonial.

"If you find yourself in a puddle of teenagers committing art together and stand and listen, what you really hear is a heartbeat," said Curtis. "And I think that's intrinsically now part of my heartbeat."

The Patriot Playhouse performs "Guys and Dolls" Thursday, May 19 through Saturday, May 21 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the door before showtime. Click here for more information.

This is Curtis' final production at First Colonial High School. She officially retires at the end of the current school year on June 17.

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