WINCHESTER — About three years ago, 48-year-old Andy Kiser — a former teacher, media specialist and musical director for Clarke County Public Schools — was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer.
Initially, the diagnosis didn’t stop him from leading the theater program. In fact, he said theater helped him.
“Directing while I was going through my cancer fight was as much of a benefit to me than any treatment I took,” said Kiser, who directed 17 musicals during his 17-year tenure with the school division.
But in October of 2017, Kiser suffered a stroke following cancer surgery, and he retired from teaching. His cancer is now in remission, and he will soon move to Florida with his wife, where he believes he can receive better rehabilitation services.
Recently, the Clarke County Education Foundation voted to change the name of the Clarke County High School Performing Arts Scholarship to the Andy Kiser Performing Arts Scholarship. The $500 scholarship is awarded to a Clarke County High School senior who intends to pursue performing arts as a course of study.
Ed Leach, a Clarke parent who started the scholarship in 2010, said in a foundation statement that Kiser was known to split up roles in school musicals so as many students as possible had lines.
“If a child wanted to be part of the production, they were,” Leach said. “It didn’t matter the number of students, they were put on the stage and were given a chance to perform.”
Leach added that Kiser was always approachable as a director and that students and parents were encouraged to share their ideas for productions.
Kiser, who helped Clarke launch the tradition of an annual school musical in 2000, said he misses the “chaos” and “energy” of directing the shows. Some of his favorite productions were “The Sound of Music,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “South Pacific” and “Seussical.”
He said it was rewarding to watch students realize they can “make the magic of theater happen,” with the community embracing their work.
“The thing I enjoyed most is seeing the kids take on the challenge,” Kiser said. “That’s what it’s about. Seeing the light bulb go off.”
During the 2004 production of “Cinderella,” a little girl asked the lead actress to sign her program, Kiser reminisced, and the request took the young actress by surprise.
“If you don’t sign that Cinderella, you’re gonna break her heart,” Kiser remembers telling the actress.
Kiser also fondly remembers directing “South Pacific” in 2005. Veterans were admitted to the show for free. After curtain call, the veterans were asked to stand up. One of the performers had a grandfather who was in the South Pacific during World War II and that student was wearing his grandfather’s veteran’s hat commemorating his service.
Kiser said he always looked at the productions as an opportunity to bring “Broadway to Berryville.” And that, he said, gave students a sense of pride in their work.
The Clarke County Education Foundation raises funds to help support the school division and its staff and students.\