Bill Ziskin says he has no plans for a June 7 appearance at Radio City Music Hall. However, his friends, colleagues and students, former and current, think an acceptance speech might be in order.
Ziskin, a longtime teacher at Schenectady High School and director of the Blue Roses Theatre Company at the John Sayles School of Fine Arts, was surprised by a small group of supporters late Tuesday afternoon at Proctors’ Fenimore Hall with the news he had been nominated by former students and colleagues for a Tony Award in a new category, the Excellence in Theatre Education Award.
An Amsterdam native, the former English teacher and junior varsity football coach was overwhelmed by the announcement, made by 2003 Schenectady High graduate Jessica (Phillips) Silverstein, who started the movement to get Ziskin recognized.
“I don’t like being the center of attention, but I’m very grateful to all these wonderful people who are here tonight,” said Ziskin, who started teaching at Schenectady’s Linton High School in 1986. “The fact that they would come out and pay their respects to what I’ve been allowed to do is very humbling. I’ve had great colleagues, extraordinary students, and I thank my parents for instilling in me the love of art and music. I’ve always felt grateful to them for that, especially when I encounter people who don’t embrace the theater to the degree that I do.”
Nominations for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award were accepted online through last week. The nominations will be screened and vetted by a panel of judges from The Broadway League, the American Theatre Wing and Carnegie Mellon University. Three finalists will be selected from that group in May, with the winner announced at the 2015 Tony Awards on June 7 in New York.
“I’ll be happy to watch on TV,” he said. “I don’t see myself going, and really, this is such an honor right here to be nominated and a great reminder to me of all the wonderful friends I’ve accumulated over the years. I’m in shock.”
According to the 2015 Tony Awards website, the award will recognize “dedicated professionals who discover talented students, nurture them, inspire them, and set them off on a lifelong journey as theatre supporters and professionals.”
Along with his parents, Ziskin, who attended Union College in Schenectady before finishing his education at the University at Albany, thanked his wife, Jennifer, and longtime colleague Tim Dugan.
“Tim ran the theater with me for many, many years, and I would especially like to thank him and my wife, Jennifer, who has put up with so many late nights and has made so many sacrifices over the years that have allowed me to accomplish what I have with the kids.”
Silverstein and a former teaching colleague of Ziskin, Tim Owens, spoke at Tuesday’s event, while a short video detailing Ziskin’s career at Schenectady, narrated by prominent film director John Sayles, was also part of the program. Sayles, a Mont Pleasant High School graduate, closed the video by saying, “I’m proud to have my name on the art and theater wing of the building Bill Ziskin works in every day.”
Dugan, who left Schenectady High and now teaches theater at Temple University in Philadelphia, was also at Tuesday’s event.
“For a long time now, Bill has gone out of his way to make kids feel welcome,” said Dugan, who also serves as an associate artistic director for the Saratoga Shakespeare Company during the summer. “He goes above and beyond and has been so generous. I know it’s a cliche, ‘Teachers change lives,’ but in Bill’s case, it’s really true. I feel really lucky to be a part of what Bill has done.”