Stephen Bogardus, better known as Steve to his students, plans to retire from the Scarsdale High School theater department at the end of June. During his 16 years at SHS, Bogardus taught students the ins and outs of the backstage industry, how to build sets and how to run shows.
“We were honored as a theater and tech department to have Steve. He truly knew the business down to its core,” said Julia Zucchini, SHS class of 2016. “He was the most professional and well-respected person in the department and it’s sad to think he is leaving, but it’s amazing we had him in the first place.”
Bogardus started at SHS after his longtime friend and college roommate, John Cuk, who retired from his job as SHS choir director and piano instructor in 2018, wanted to show Bogardus around his new place of employment. The school offered Bogardus a job on the spot since he was well known for his extensive background in theater.
Growing up in Croton-on-Hudson with his sister, brother and parents, Bogardus said he feels like he had a normal upper-middle-class childhood. No one in his family was in show business, he said, and he was the first man in his family to graduate from a four-year college, getting an education from NYU and Manhattanville College.
Bogardus’ first acting job was in 1979, and for 25 years he was an actor and stage manager. His job at SHS has been the longest he has worked anywhere, the second longest being seven years at one theater. He attributes his constant changing of jobs to boredom and, while his students always kept him on his toes, he feels it is time to get back to his creative roots.
When Bogardus was initially offered the SHS job he said he hesitated but, after talking with his wife, he decided to give it a shot for a year. At the time, he said, no one was running the show backstage except for students. “It was chaotic … kids running everything without any adult supervision,” said Bogardus, “No one was willing to take it on.”
The list of what needed to be done was extensive — renovate theaters, “teching” shows, building sets, and teaching a class that no one ever taught before. Before long he had shaped the class into what he wanted it to be; a loosely structured classroom on the stage where students could learn about theater, set building and stage managing by doing it themselves.
“Steve immediately took me under his wing and put me to tasks he knew I could handle and enjoy [while] challenging me to try new things and harder jobs,” said Sabrina Knaack, SHS class of 2017, who now studies theater design and technology at Syracuse. “By high school graduation I had built sets with him, helped with lighting, sound, stage crew, stage management and finally theater design. Without him I would’ve never found my calling of career, passion or love for collaborative learning and creation.”
“Everyone in the class was probably closer with him than any other teacher. Most of us considered him to be a friend and a teacher,” said Alexandra Hart, SHS class of 2018.
During his sixth year at SHS, Bogardus wanted to set up class trips similar to trips arranged for the school’s band and choir to raise awareness for the kids who were working behind the scenes.
“Everyone in the school knew who the Drama Club was … who the sports kids were… who was doing well scholastically [but] nobody knew these kids who were working so hard back here,” said Bogardus, referring to the backstage. “As soon as they heard that I was taking high school students to Las Vegas, everyone’s ears perked up.”
Every other year Bogardus took his class to Washington, D.C., where students got to sightsee, watch performances and venture backstage. On alternate years, Bogardus took the class to Las Vegas, Paris or London to see performances, such as Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group, student plays and fashion shows.
Touring with Bogardus, the students would get to see the inner workings of the show itself, far beyond what a normal backstage tour would be at historic venues, such as the Paris Opera house and the Globe Theater.
“It was crazy to see there are not just one, but two separate levels of tech above the theater with actors and techies on both levels,” said SHS senior Ian Lerner, referring to what he saw backstage at Le Reve, an underwater performance show in Las Vegas. “Just seeing the sheer amount of thought and work that goes into the costumes let alone all of the tech and acrobatics is astounding.”
Some of Bogardus’ students even had a chance to fly in harnesses at Flying by Foy and play with pyrotechnics at Advanced Entertainment — with professional supervision, of course.
Bogardus said he almost never asked what he could and couldn’t do with the class, and he made changes as he saw fit. He wanted students to work with their hands, learn about the theater and find new ways to solve problems. The one thing Bogardus said he wishes he got to do was witness the renovation of the SHS auditorium, which needs new seats, improvements for the stage and floor, and new LED lighting.
Now that he is leaving, Bogardus said he hopes the next tech teacher will be able to give the students the same opportunities he provided.
“I would love nothing more than for someone to come in who is better than me, [who] actually takes the baton from me and goes further with it, because that would mean I did my job.”