Nancy Curtis has directed the drama department at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach for four decades. She officially retires at the end of the school year.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia – It’s the final curtain on a local legend.

After 40 years and one final production of the musical Guys and Dolls, First Colonial High School theater director Nancy Curtis is retiring.

“I know it’s the right thing to do. I know, I know why I’m making this choice now,” Curtis said. “I never am [going to] be willing to leave the children, always. And they need new ones.”

Since 1981, the acting coach, most commonly known simply as “Curtis,” has directed more than 200 shows for the Patriot Playhouse — by any means necessary.

“I think it’s a myth that theatrical productions ever existed before Xerox machines or tape,” Curtis said.

She has taught hundreds of First Colonial students over the years.

“I have the best kids on the planet. I’ve always had that,” Curtis said. “I probably learn a lot more from them than they ever got from me.”

Many of her former students are now professional actors, including one name that sounds familiar.

“I’m sure you mean Mark Ruffalo,” Curtis smiled. “He came and asked me if I thought he could do it … And I said to him, ‘Absolutely,’ but it was about how much he wanted it and how much he wanted to work for it.”

Curtis had a career marked by triumphs, even in the midst of tragedy. In January 2021, she lost her 32-year-old son Sky.

“Sky was, um, just this big teddy bear,” she said. “He was a good friend to all who needed it, as was all who needed it.”

“He was sick and we didn’t really know how sick. And then he ended up dying very, very unexpectedly,” Curtis said. “He was a big guy and he left a really big hole in my heart.”

Soon after, Curtis received more devastating news.

“About a month later I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Uh, lymphoma,” she said. “So, the recovery was, was tough. But my oncologist… treated me very aggressively and I had to go back to work. And the children.”

Through it all, her students said she remained the same.

“She was there like nothing happened,” said Andrew Truitt, a junior at First Colonial. “Um, she was gone for a day or two… But other than that, she was always there, ready to help.”

“She always greets us with ‘Good morning campers!’ no matter what time of day,” said Madelyn Resnick, student director at Patriot Playhouse. “It really meant a lot to us that she wanted to keep going.”

As she prepares for her final bow of high school, Curtis said a special part of her will always stay with First Colonial.

“When you find yourself in a puddle of teenagers making art together and you stop and listen, you really hear a heartbeat,” Curtis said. “And I think that’s a significant part of my heartbeat now.”

The Patriot Playhouse will be performing “Guys and Dolls” Thursday, May 19 through Saturday, May 21 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, May 22 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office before the performance begins. Click here for more information.

This is Curtis’ final production at First Colonial High School. She will officially retire at the end of the current school year on June 17th.

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