MARYELLEN BARNES and Fifty Years of the Teen Show
The Breezy Point Historical Society has selected Maryellen Barnes and the Teen Show for induction in our 2022 Hall of Fame. The annual summer Teen Show has engaged, inspired and occasionally even launched the careers of our community’s youth for an amazing run of fifty years. Just as amazing is that for those fifty years, Maryellen Barnes has directed the summer extravaganza. By so doing, she kept thousands of our teens and pre-teens happily occupied in a healthy social environment, learning social skills, teamwork and, it’s no exaggeration to suggest, professionalism, in a wholesome slice of the entertainment world. Our community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Maryellen, but also to the numerous people whom she credits as being so helpful over the years in ensuring that “the show must go on,” as well as to those young thespians and stagehands who worked all summer in order to blossom for a week in August. It is a telling sign of their success and Maryellen’s stewardship that so many youths who started in early Teen Shows returned to continue the tradition in various roles as adult helpers and, of course, as parents of successive Teen Show generations.
Maryellen’s family connections with Breezy were, and remain, deep. Her aunt and uncle lived on Fulton Walk and her cousins, the Blairs, lived on Oceanside. She was a Surf Club kid. She married her husband, Jim Barnes, in 1968. After Jim returned from service in Vietnam, they, too, purchased a summer bungalow on Fulton Walk in 1972. They now have five children and thirteen grandchildren, many also spread throughout the Point. The Barnes family has a continuing tradition of musical excellence. Maryellen’s children all grew up in show business as Screen Actors Guild members. They have had a variety of roles in television, commercials, movies, and theater. Her son Shamus appeared on Broadway in Pippin. JoJo, Maryellen and Shamus were part of its first National Tour and traveled extensively across the US.
Maryellen, herself, was born to dance. She has been dancing since she was five years old and later received accolades as Miss Cheerleader of the United States. At eighteen years of age she was accepted into the famous Rockettes, a dream job deferred so that she could attend college. She subsequently received her degree in Early Childhood Education and then a Masters Degree as a Counsellor in Education from St. John’s University. Maryellen taught in elementary school, specialized in teaching special needs children, became a counselor for the New York City Board of Education and was awarded the New York City “Counselor of the Year” award. Her professor and mentor at St. John’s was Dr. Wayne Dyrer who went on to be a notable author and expert in positive behavior strategies. Maryellen credits her loving and supportive husband for attending her shows for fifty years and never failing with his famous line of “that was the best show ever.”
The link between Maryellen and the Teen show was karma engineered by Ruth Clarke (one of our 2017 Hall of Fame Honorees), the Coop’s first Secretary who was so instrumental in firming up the ground beneath the community newly managed as a Cooperative. The Teen Show was Ruth Clarke’s brainchild. She realized how important it was to keep our teenagers active in constructive endeavors during the summer. She approached Maryellen in 1972 to develop a program designed to introduce them to “the art of song, dance, and drama.” Maryellen had already been directing a popular show for young persons at the Surf Club which had a storied history which Ruth Clarke had seen and admired. She wanted Maryellen to undertake a similar project for the youth in Breezy. Twelve teens showed up for the first Teen Show, which was initially held in the Catholic Club before it later migrated to Roxbury, and yet later to the Colony theater. Ruth Clarke’s family, including her daughter and our Trustee Leslie Barnett, became Maryellen’s stage family who were especially helpful in all aspects of getting the show up and running. Maryellen recalls Parmer Doyle and his brothers as early members of the troupe when their aunt, Kathy Duffy, was helping out. Their younger cousin Megan FitzPatrick (now Megan Esposito) soon joined and has remained active to this day as a choreographer. All of Maryellen’s own children were in the show and later were enlisted. Many youths who started in the Teen show discovered true talents that otherwise might have remained obscure. She especially remembers Joe Murray as a bundle of singing and acting talents. As Maryellen happily reminisces, the names of so many once-young participants keep tumbling out. Early on, Ruth Clarke also brought to Maryellen’s attention a pre-teen program run by Gert Hendry (one of our 2018 Honorees who also bequeathed loving support to so many kids) which soon joined the expanding summer program. Maryellen described the pre-teen part of the program as a great way for the younger kids to acclimate and meet one another and to later be front and center in the Teen Show. To this day, the Teen Show engages the teens and, in Gert Hendry’s phrasing, “pre-teens too.”
Maryellen also is fulsome in the appreciation she shows to so many individuals who have been so helpful over the years. She recalls Gene Gilroy, her first piano player who was the musical director at Kings Point, who stayed with the show until he passed many decades later. Gary Pace then was the lead pianist for many years with his incredible drummer Hap Gormley. Angela DiLalla was in the show as a teen and, along with Suzanne Valentine, returned numerous times to help as an all-star production manager. Maryellen also credits the Coop and Board of Directors with its continuous support.
Maryellen in her recorded interview mentioned some traditions that have developed over the years. For one tradition, she takes the cast to the Bay precisely at sunset to say, “goodnight to the sun,” a poetic means of drawing attention to the beauty with which we in Breezy are gifted as well as, on a deeper level, the beauty that resides in each youth. There is a cast party at the conclusion of each year’s teen show where bonds are reinforced, and a springboard is provided for the next year. Each year, the show has a special theme, usually inspirational but also sometimes a reflection of current events. Maryellen relates that after the destruction wrought by Sandy, the Donlin girls had found an American flag beneath a neighbor’s flooded bungalow. As they were trying to raise it, a photographer from the New York Post happened to see them and snapped the shot. It ended up on the Post’s front page under the caption Home of the Brave, and thence on the program for the 2013 Teen show bearing the same name, and on that year’s shirt. Each year had a special shirt, many of which Maryellen still has and was able to display for us. So much more goes on during the show each year than learning how to dance; it’s about teamwork, developing friendships and learning to be happy and love yourself.
The synergy between Maryellen’s love of and background in dance, and her academic training in childhood education and counseling, provided a spectacular backdrop for her lifetime career and dedication as Breezy Point’s ultimate summer youth ambassador. Maryellen had already been directing the annual Surf Club show for young people at the Surf Club which, as noted, drew Ruth Clarke’s attention early on, and other shows for youth in other venues. This included shows at Sun and Surf in Atlantic Beach, Showtime in Bayside, then Red Stocking Revue in Port Washington, Sweet Charity at Baldwin High School and currently includes the annual Blessed Trinity Parish Show. She is the creator and director of Showtime Productions which produces professional styled musical shows. So, it might seem that her direction of the Teen show has brought her career full circle except, of course, that circle never seems to close. The good fortune continues for yet another generation of Breezy Point’s summer youth who can follow the same fabled footpath, the Teen Show, as had so many earlier generations.
She uses famous quotes from her mother who passed in 1990 but who’s spirit is with her every day. A few of these quotes are intended to inspire the cast and include:
Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.
Say goodnight to the sun.
It is in giving that we receive.
This is a natural high.
Be grateful for this amazing community every day.
Our greatest natural resource in Breezy Point are our teenagers.
Mary Ellen provided us with a wonderful interview, now recorded in our archives, where she not only related how the Teen Show began but also acknowledged the several people who were so important to its continuation over so many decades. She was exceptionally generous in emphasizing how much help she had from so many enthusiastic and talented people, including many who started in the show and continued as adults putting the show together year after year. Maryellen mentioned the wisdom that she tries to convey to the youths who, for a brief time each year, are entrusted to her evening care: to be grateful for family; make good choices in friends, since they will come to shape and reflect who you become; have faith in the talents that God has given you; often you have more talents than you realize until you start to explore them; keep your enthusiasm; use all your talents – make sure that they are all “used up” by the time we leave this earth. Over fifty years, no one likely has ever said it better.