A Conversation with Pioneer's Steve Dini

The other day, I had the pleasure of having a little phone chat with local theatre director and Pioneer High School drama teacher, Steve Dini. After twenty years as a member of the Mustang community and on the eve of opening night of their upcoming production of 42nd Street, I thought it would be fitting to speak with him and take a look back at the past, and a closer look at his reputable program.

Paul Sawyer: I hear this is your twentieth year with Pioneer High School!
Steve Dini: That’s right twenty years. Actually this spring marks my twentieth production. I was working at another gig at KICU-TV and I would come over in the evening and direct. After I got laid off from Channel 36 in 1999, I came over and became a full time teacher. 

PS: After the unfortunate arson incident in 2003 which destroyed your old space, what has it been like to have your program in a brand new space?
SD: It is a real source of pride, and it has really become the focal point of the campus. We have dubbed it “The PAC” (Performing Arts Center), but many other groups use it. The choir has its classes in there, the leadership class meets in there, and there are dances and so on. And of course we do our fall play and spring musical in there. It has kind of become the heart and soul of the school, and it took a very tragic incident to enable the district to expand the room and put in more seats, make the stage bigger, and put in new sound and lighting equipment. It has been fun to watch the kids take ownership of the room and protect it. We don’t see the vandalism and the destruction at the PAC, like tagging and such. The vibe is so positive, and the school has latched onto that. There is so much joy, love, and self esteem that comes out of that room. After the fire, we had to travel around and perform at several different spaces like the Historic Hoover Theatre, a church, the library, and even outside on the campus here at Pioneer. But the rallying cry was always “bring back the PAC”. We (the performing arts faculty) even got a say with the architect on the design of the new space, and the district really came through on helping us make this space fit our needs. 

PS: What has it been like to be part of a school community for this long?
SD: Well it’s interesting because you get to see the evolution of the department. We started in 1991 by invitation of the principal at the time, Sal Cesario. He invited me over to work with the music guy Lou De La Rosa to put on a musical because he felt the school needed something to rally around, to lift the students’ spirits and he thought a musical would do it. This was way before High School Musical and before doing musicals was “cool”, and so we started with Bye, Bye, Birdie with twenty-three kids, one of whom was my son who I had to pay ten dollars a show to be in it. The next year we did Oklahoma with thirty kids, and every year we just continued to grow and grow to the point that now combining the cast, the crew and the band, we have about 110 kids working on this show. The program just keeps getting bigger to the point that it really has a life of its own.

---Be sure to scroll down and see the review for 42nd Street, which closes this weekend. The latest word from Steve is that they are really packing them in, even with the weather. So get there early to get tickets.

42nd Street at Pioneer High School – 1290 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose.
March 18, 19 (Fri, Sat) at 7pm
March 23-26 (Wed-Sat) at 7pm
Tickets: $15 General Admission, $7 Students/Seniors
Tickets are available at Pioneerhigh.org or at the door.
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