BRATTLEBORO—Robert Kramsky still remembers auditioning as a teenager for the lead in the musical, The King and I, only to search out the cast list and find himself missing.
So imagine the Brattleboro Union High School theater teacher’s surprise upon learning his name is about to appear on something bigger: The 550-seat auditorium where he has worked for nearly a half century.
The school has a rule against recognizing staffers in such a way while they’re still employed. But that didn’t stop officials from pre-approving the public honor once the soon-to-be 70-year-old retires this summer and announcing it at a packed Friday performance of his last major production, Oliver! — the same show in which he made his local musical directorial debut in 1977.
When the Windham Southeast School District Board received dozens upon dozens of student and alumni requests to support the Robert Kramsky Auditorium at a meeting last fall, a capacity crowd there for a televised debate on a proposed $1 million synthetic football field was told the naming was to be a surprise.
Kramsky acted that way upon its unveiling three months later, even if a full house featuring three generations of his family — including wife Leslie, daughters Vicki and Elizabeth, and grandchildren Ziva, Zane, and Rowan — signaled something was up.
“When I was in eighth grade my own father didn’t cast me in the school musical because I wasn’t good enough — if that’s not dedication to his craft, I don’t know what is,” Elizabeth Kramsky recently posted on her Facebook page. “He has influenced and inspired hundreds of students during his years at BUHS and will remain my hero for the rest of my life.”
Kramsky, once an aspiring actor, came to Brattleboro in 1974 to follow in the professional footsteps of his mother, a longtime English and theater teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. The then-twentysomething had never directed a musical, only to go on to tackle everything from Annie to The Wiz over the past four decades.
“This man knows every inch of this space better than most of us know our homes,” music teacher Steve Rice told the crowd upon announcing the auditorium’s new name. “Every prop, light, set unit and costume piece was bought, found, made, and/or used by Mr. Kramsky.”
“He knows the possibilities and limitations of this stage better than anyone ever has or will,” Rice said.