Most people who know him would assume that it was theater that brought Steve Scherer to Colorado Academy. In fact, it was soccer. You find that hard to believe? Well, here’s the story.
Scherer had just moved to Denver from Chicago, where he had taught drama to everyone from pre-school students to senior citizens. He also had mounted shows at Chicago’s Theater on the Lake, with its breathtaking views of both Lake Michigan and the city skyline. But in Denver, he was a long way from directing elite productions. In fact, he was working at a home improvement big box store as the Assistant Manager of Hardware.
He was also filling time by giving his seven-year-old niece piano lessons. Then, one day in summer 1994, his niece’s father called with a last-minute request. He was running late, so could Steve take the girl to soccer practice at a nearby school? Ever obliging (and with nothing better to do), Steve agreed. He still remembers the drive to the soccer field. “Turn right here, turn left here,” his niece told him. “We ended up on a campus,” he says, “and I thought it was a junior college.”
It was actually CA.
Scherer dropped his niece at soccer, parked the car, found the Froelicher Theater, and ran into then-Chairman of the Fine and Performing Arts Department, Angel Vigil.
“If you ever need anyone to teach drama or work with kids, I can do that,” Scherer told Vigil.
“Do you have a résumé?” Vigil asked.
“Sure,” Scherer lied. And he jumped back into the car, raced over to Bear Valley Library, rented a typewriter, typed up a résumé, and took it back to Vigil.
“Well,” Vigil said, “I can give you a part-time job, but it will never be full time.”
And that was 28 years ago—28 years of Scherer having a hand (or both hands) in more than 100 productions at CA, inspiring generations of students to love theater. He’s served as director, musical director, technical director, or as scene painter or set builder, but now it’s time for Scherer to hand back his title, “Chair of Theater & Dance Department,” say farewell to CA, and retire from full-time teaching.
“Every year, I wanted to wait one more year, until this student graduated or that student graduated,” he says. “But I realized, there will always be another student.”
Let the memory live again
Scherer is a unique combination—an autodidact with top-notch training. He has served as musical director on many CA productions, but he never had classical training in music. Self-taught, he learned to play piano by ear on the family’s Hammond home organ.
He had started a Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Iowa, when he realized he didn’t want to read about plays, he wanted to do plays. “I am a maker,” he says simply. And off he went to launch his career in Chicago.
His arrival at CA may have been accidental, but “I knew what I was doing,” he says. “I felt like I saw an opportunity for growth with a good program and good people. There were holes to be filled, and I filled them.”
Within two years after starting, Scherer had a full-time job. His first show was Dandelion Wine with the Middle School. His first Upper School show was Dark of the Moon, directed by Billy Bair, with a set that included a two-story tree that Scherer designed and built. He started by teaching Sixth Grade drama and went on to teach for decades, including a musical theater course he created.
His favorite show at CA was Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, which he directed, collaborating with musical director Cindy Jordan. And of all the shows, in all the years, his favorite moment was in West Side Story, when Jon Davis ’08, cast as Tony, sang “Maria.”
“He was an incredible singer, and those last two notes of “Maria” just floated throughout the room,” Scherer says. “The audience was stunned. First there was silence and then massive applause. It was the most perfect moment I have had in my career.”
For more than two decades, Scherer dreamt of a theater upgrade, and in 2021 it finally arrived, in the form of the Leach Center for the Performing Arts. The Leach Center includes a much-needed rehearsal room, named in honor of Steve Scherer, thanks to a donation from the Shockley family. “Steve embodies a lot of what is special about CA,” said Ann Shockley when the family made the gift. “He should have a permanent place on this campus.”
And a new day will begin
In addition to making a name for himself at CA, Scherer has achieved neighborhood fame for the spectacular Christmas decoration and light show at his home. He says he’s been “obsessed with Christmas decorating since he was a little kid.” His family didn’t have money for lights, so when he was a young child, he wandered throughout the neighborhood after Christmas, scavenging discarded decorations to light up the family house.
When he moved to Denver, he kept an eye out for a house with two requirements—close to CA and large enough to expand his annual Christmas display. But now, he is planning to relocate back to Chicago, so after Christmas 2021, he placed an ad on the Harvey Park Facebook page for a sale of his Christmas treasure trove. Carloads of people with cash in hand showed up, and within 45 minutes, the decorations were gone.
“Now all I have left are 100,000 lights,” he laughs. “But it gives me pleasure to know that my legacy will live on throughout the neighborhood.”
At CA, Scherer’s legacy truly lives through his many students—in the creativity he nurtured and the hard work he encouraged.
“I have loved being a mentor to young people, he says, “and I will miss their energy.”
Anshu Bhatia ’06 is one of those students Scherer inspired. Today, Bhatia has a successful international career in scenic and lighting design for theater and opera, and he has also started teaching the next generation of theater students, following in his mentor’s footsteps.
“From a young age, Steve gave me so much more than a love of the theater,” Bhatia says. “He grew in me an attitude that said, ‘Go and accomplish your dreams.’ Steve always championed giving students opportunities and allowing us to think for ourselves. When you turned to him for the answer, he would say, ‘What do you think?’ When we did Seussical, it was such an eye-opening experience for me to think as a designer, as opposed to just a technician. The lessons he taught me during that show are some that I continue to use and spread everywhere I get to go.”
Scherer plans to become re-engaged in the vibrant Chicago theater scene after leaving CA. He served as technical and musical director for his final CA show, the Upper School musical, Mary Poppins. “It’s a good one to end on,” he says. “I’m going to take off and fly, as well.”