|Floyd Central Theater Director Chris Bundy takes his place in the audience|
This is where you will find him, center stage, surrounded by kids. After nearly 40 years of acting, teaching, writing, and directing theater, he can’t imagine being anywhere else but he knows it is time to usher in the next season of his life. Chris Bundy’s passion for teaching, theater, and pushing students to strive for excellence are what have taken an already very good theater program at Floyd Central High School to a whole new level of national as well as international recognition. And as with any large amount of success, it comes at a cost of countless hours of hard work and dedication.
While school was of course a necessity in his young life, the fit never seemed to be quite right. He referred to homework as “drudgery” and as for extra curricular, well sports sure wasn’t it for him. Bundy can quickly recall many teachers who brought subjects to life for him but considered himself to be a dreamer stuck in a student’s body.
Bundy found himself first interested in theater at a young age, but not immediately. His older sister was working on lines for a high school play, and while Bundy picked up on it quickly, he found the production to be just beyond the realm of his interest. Not long after he found himself in the audience of another high school production but this time something was different. Seeing the actors and the response from the audience, Bundy was intrigued. The following year Bundy was a freshman at Salem High School, and after a hum drum existence and interest in school to that point, decided to try his hand at acting. He was cast as Helen Keller’s brother in the play “The Miracle Worker”. And suddenly, the monotony of school life gave way to interest and a desire to achieve. Bundy would go on to play many more roles during his high school career and made the decision to go on to Northwood Institute to major in theater.
It was at Northwood that his true talent was discovered. While he credits many of his teachers from elementary school through college with being excellent educators, it was Professor Turner at Northwood who astutely picked up on his real gifting. His love for working with other students, knowing what they needed, and how to prepare them for the next level, still strengths of his today, clearly pointed him down the career path of teaching. Bundy was offered his first teaching position at West Washington High School while still in college. In his fourteen years at West Washington, his enthusiasm took him from teaching English as he was hired for, to nearly six years later teaching only theater, make that six high school theater classes. Not only did he develop and entire theater program, but one that gained state and international recognition.
While at West Washington, Bundy elected to take a position at his home school, Salem High School. He loved the kids there and the opportunity to work at his home school, but only teaching English and not theater, the fit just wasn’t there.
After Salem came his opportunity to work at Floyd Central High School where he was hired to teach English but was also involved in the technical design aspect of the theater department. The school system at the time though was a but fickle due to funding causing some teachers to have to be let go every single year and rehired at the start of the next. Bundy considered it a good time to take a break from teaching so he took a year off. He of course didn’t sit idly by but instead decided to open a restaurant named Victoria Gardens complete with small cabaret shows.
Funny how things work sometimes, Bundy said that a former student of his had come into the restaurant and basically said “What are you doing?!” (implying that Bundy’s call was really to teach). Not long after Bundy received a phone call from the principal at Silver Creek High School who said there was a position open and he’d like for him to apply. Bundy hadn’t fully decided it was time to go back but through consistent persuasion by the principal (as it turns out someone he had college classes with) so convinced Bundy and he spent seven years taking yet another school by storm and enriching many students lives with all things theater in the process.
One would think that anyone who spent such countless hours in rehearsal and set building would enjoy summer break. Bundy did enjoy summer, but he never really grasped the “break” concept as he spent his summers running a theater program at Spring Mill State Park, and among other things, exposing his students to cultural diversity and the world stage through travel.
While Bundy was working as the theater director at Silver Creek High School, the same position became available at Floyd Central.
He hated to leave the students he had grown to love at Silver Creek but the opportunity was not one he could pass up. So as with everything, he dove right in. When asked at what point did he imagine FC’s theater program might be all that it is today he replied, “It took off that first year and never stopped.” Under Bundy’s 15 years of direction, Floyd Central’s theater productions were featured at the International Thespian Festival (by invitation only) many times, as well as the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. The FC Theater program was also featured in “Guys ‘N Divas: Battle of the High School Musicals” a documentary that aired on Showtime in 2007.
Bundy says the key to great productions is to provide students with opportunities you know they will succeed at rather than just doing shows that you want to do as the director. He says it is about matching up the talent in each of your cast members to shows of that caliber.
The drive and professionalism of his students is one thing that has always impressed Bundy. He has had many students go on to achieve professional success in theater from acting to writing, directing, and producing. Kirsten Day, a former student went on to tour with Nickelodeon. Michael Chandler works in the New York film industry specializing in producing, directing, and stunt/fight choreography.
Danny Mefford has earned the honor of choreographing a Broadway show. He has also had many students follow in his footsteps becoming theater teachers themselves.
Bundy’s achievements are directly related not only to his level of talent and his drive for excellence, but also the many, many hours he put into each show and each student.
No matter where he worked, he was known for not only late nights but often times also early mornings as he labored tirelessly into the am of the following day. He says that is the one thing he regrets, the time he missed with his own kids at home.
That is the trade off, the sacrifice made to make an impact on thousands of other lives over the years. Bundy remarked that is one of the biggest reasons for his retirement. He wants to spend the time with his grandkids that he missed with his own children. “I love doing this and could have stayed on as director saying that I’d cut back or do fewer shows, but I know myself. I have to quit cold turkey.” Bundy’s wife, a special education teacher in Salem will be retiring at the end of this year as well.
When asked what challenges he has faced in his 40 year span, his positive outlook and love of a challenge left him without answer. He did say that he wishes more schools would understand and embrace the importance of a strong theater program. He said it is proven that students who are active in the arts perform better academically, they learn to budget their time and to use it wisely, it provides another source of accountability by teachers who require academic standards for participation, and as a result some have the opportunity for theater scholarships that otherwise would not have been available to them. His favorite thing though about a strong theater program is the sense of family. Students seem to develop enthusiasm and a sense of selflessness which helps them think communally. He said the arts make us human, they help students to appreciate the world, and give them a sense of pride and accomplishment rather than the spoiled sense of entitlement the rest of the world tries to short change them with.
He admits that he himself was a mediocre student before becoming interested in theater, but to look at all he has been driven to achieve you would never know it, such as being inducted into the Educational Theater Associated Hall of Fame and being named an Armstrong Teacher Educator by Indiana University.
One thing you notice quickly about Bundy is that his door is always open. There is a constant flow of kids in and out, information, questions, exchanges. Beyond holding each student to a high standard of achievement, he said he loves it that they trust him enough to come to him with problems. He said they learn to appreciate that he is “always on their case.”
“It is important to let kids know you care about them,” he added.
Mrs. Turner was right when she said he was meant to be a teacher. He agreed that it is what he was designed to do. He said that while he loves acting, it would never have fulfilled him the way teaching and directing does. The kids are his heart. Bundy considers himself fortunate to have worked with around 6,000 students over the years. He said he will always see them as his kids even when encountering them ten or twenty years later.
In addition to the extensive list of accomplishments, honors, and awards in his teaching career, it doesn’t stop there. Somehow Bundy managed to make travel a big part of his students’ lives, taking FC students to such places as Disney World, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Switzerland, as well as on cruises. One of his most memorable trips was to Athens, Greece, the birthplace of theater. He said he and the students were overwhelmed to be standing in the place where it all began. Bundy also has a passion for historic landmarks of Indiana and has authored several books on the subject. He spent 14 years facilitating the Summer Stock theater program at Spring Mill State Park. Developed an entertainment program for the French Lick Springs Resort after being approached by the new owner to do so. He even managed to find the time to officiate a Celtic wedding for two of his former students (at their request). Sounds like enough to fill up a few lifetimes just so far. For more on the story of his life pick up a copy of the autobiography he penned for his grandchildren titled “Worms in the Apple – A Memoir of Life, Love, and Laughter.”
After retirement he and his wife will work to turn their historic home into a bed and breakfast. Bundy said there is no theater in his plan for the future. He looks forward to possibly writing more books, definitely to more hotel/historic landmark tours, and lots of travel (less the 40-50 kids he has grown accustomed to keeping track of). But most of all he looks forward to his own family time. He said that “Now is the time I am enjoying my kids and grandkids the most.”
Bundy said while he is ready to move on, he hates the day he will have to actually pack up and leave. He estimates having done over 400 productions in his 40 years of teaching and directing with over 100 of those being at Floyd Central. The blessings of visionary principals, involved parents, top notch facilities, hardworking students, and a supportive community are what he said set Floyd Central apart and allowed for all that was accomplished in his time there. When asked about the endless hours of dedication and how he manages it all he said “It’s a good tired. It’s the day to day interaction with the kids that keeps me young (or younger).” An ambitious 10 shows was what Bundy chose for his final year with only one remaining, Celtic Dreams – An original visual fantasy by (none other than) Chris Bundy which will run in April. And after that it’s exit stage right for this theater titan who leaves behind a legacy of thousands of lives impacted by his gift.