Admired theater teacher retiring after 33 years at Mt. Lebanon

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Cindy Schreiner said goodbye to a packed theater Saturday night at the close of her final production — "Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street" — with Mt. Lebanon High School.

Ms. Schreiner is retiring at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

She’s been with the school district since 1979, when she directed her first production of “The Miracle Worker.” She's actually been there for 33 years because she took time off when she had her children.

Before joining the teaching staff at Mt. Lebanon High School, she attended West Virginia University with a double major in performance and education. The start of her teaching career was “when my life really began,” she said.

“The students rock my world,” Ms. Schreiner said. “They’re intelligent, creative, insightful and funny. They’re just so funny. I love getting to know them and see their confidence grow along with their stage presence.”

The teaching veteran has seen several successful students fostered through her program, including Ming-Na Wen, actress on ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Broadway actor Joshua Landay and "True Blood" actor Joe Manganiello, who will star in the film “Sabotage” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ms. Schreiner mentored Mr. Manganiello as a young theater student at Mt. Lebanon High School. He was a well-rounded athlete when he came into her class, she said, but she encouraged him to try something new and audition for the role of Judd in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!”

“I’m not proud of the fact that he’s famous,” she said. “I’m proud of his journey. He went over and above what he needed to do for the sake of his craft. That’s why I never predict what student will be successful. Who am I to say? I’m humbled by what these kids are capable of every day.”

Senior Lani Cupo has taken theater classes with Ms. Schreiner for four years, after a friend encouraged her to try out the class freshman year.

“After the first semester with Ms. Schreiner, I was sold,” she said. “She turns a random group of people into a cast and a family. She takes people who wouldn’t usually talk to each other in the hallways and helps them work together and be together.”

Parent Rich Russell has had two children study in Ms. Schreiner’s theater class, and has produced stage photography for school productions for the past seven years. What stood out to him most about Ms. Schreiner, he said, was the encouragement she gave to students who struggled in her class. He said students often refer to her as “Mama Schreiner,” and call the important life lessons she often bestows on her students “Schreiner-isms.”

“I see her give the most attention to the kids in the bottom of the class,” Mr. Russell said. “I’ve always watched her go out of the way to bring them into the fold and help them and uplift them.”

Mr. Russell has worked with other parents to coordinate a retirement event for her at the end of the 2013-14 school year. On the Facebook page for the event, more than 300 alumni have already joined, with students from each year she has taught since 1979 scheduled to attend.

“I just hope the momentum she has built and the culture she’s built will sustain itself while they bring in someone who can actively take it forward,” he said. “She has had such an impact on a culture and a mindset there that I think will outlast her.”

Ms. Cupo and her classmates refused to let Ms. Schreiner’s last production at the high school end without recognition. They stole a stack of programs from her desk and slipped individual inserts into them.

Hidden in the folds of the “Sweeney Todd” production program, her eighth-period students and self-proclaimed “Schreiner Kids” placed a tribute to their retiring theater teacher.

“Through listening to Schreiner-isms [Schreiner’s life lessons] and through observing her passion for the arts, Schreiner students not only learn skills in acting, but also skills necessary in life,” the letter read in part. “Without doubt, 'Sweeney Todd' is not a goodbye. Rather, it is a temporary conclusion awaiting a sequel.”

Clarece Polke: or 412-263-1889.

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