Shawnee teacher with stage 4 cancer directs 25th and final musical

Bryan Szekacs celebrates ‘a great life’ and bringing people together through theater.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

A Shawnee High School teacher who has stage 4 pancreatic cancer is directing his 25th and last musical this weekend.

Bryan Szekacs is directing Disney’s High School Musical on Stage, which he said is a show he’s done before, but wanted to showcase his students’ talents and bring people together.

“I wanted to redo it this year because I have such a talented group of seniors. I have 15 of them, and I wanted to be able to showcase that talent,” he said. “I also chose the show because when I started directing, actually when I started teaching 33 years ago, one of my goals was bringing people together, getting out of cliques, getting people to learn to reach out and talk to other people because we all know that talking to people is how you learn to understand people, and theater is just a cool vehicle for that.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Szekacs, who was diagnosed last year with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, said he will miss directing. He is retiring.

“I was given 10 months to live, and I was supposed to die basically in July, according to statistics,” Szekacs said, “and we’ve gotten to the point where the chemo’s not working anymore so we’re winding up on things, so to speak,” he said.

The longtime teacher has an infectious, upbeat attitude.

“It’s OK. I had a great life,” he said. “I had a job that I feel really good about. I have a beautiful wife, two wonderful kids, and a lot of people that just are awesome that I’ve worked with that have shown a lot of love and support.”

Szekacs got involved with theater his eighth year of teaching because the kids “begged him” to do a play. That next year he wrote his own show and then did a musical and “just kept on going,” which he said he kept doing because of the kids.

“Every year you get a new group that comes through, and in theater, I work with them a lot of hours ... You get to know these kids and they become like children, they become like your extended family, and I just really enjoy it,” he said.

For this play, Szekacs said the audience will see many different types of students, including football players, cheerleaders, band kids, kids who have never done any extracurriculars and more. He said that is what he loves about it: getting people involved.

Szekacs said: “It’s going to be tough. If I wasn’t having to deal with the cancer, I’d probably be doing this until I was 100 years old, just because it’s fun.”

Shawnee High School will present Disney’s High School Musical on Stage at 7 p.m. today and Saturday in the North Gym.

“High School Musical follows Troy and Gabriella, two high school students from different social circles who discover a shared passion for singing. Despite the obstacles, they audition for the lead roles in their school’s musical. As they pursue their dreams and face the pressures of high school, their journey inspires their classmates to embrace their own talents.”

For tickets, visit the Shawnee Box Office at The Playbill is available at

A 25th anniversary celebration of directing high school plays and musicals will be held at 1 p.m. on Sunday at The Meadows Restaurant, 4105 E. National Road, according to a Facebook event page. Those who were a part of a production, class or just a fan are invited to the celebration. If you can’t make it or would like to share a message or pictures, email Lindsey Smith at

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