DRACUT -- Every college spring break for 30 years since he graduated from high school, Gary Meuse has happily agreed to help televise and direct Dracut's own, unique, circus-like version of March madness.
Meuse, 47, is again executive producing the Dracut Scholarship Foundation Telethon as it completes a third decade, airing March 12-15, from 6:30-9:30 p.m., on town cable-TV channels 8 and 22. It is also being streamed live at www.dracutscholarship.org.
"Behind the scenes at the telethon is far crazier than Miami Beach at spring break, I can guarantee you that," said Meuse Monday in the Dracut High School TV studio, which houses the telethon's control room, next to the school's auditorium and front lobby where all the live-entertainment and auction-board magic happens.
Meuse said he'd just completed several more hours of the prep work required to produce more than 12 hours of live television.
The goal of this year's telethon is to raise at least $100,000 for 2013 Foundation scholarship recipients, said DSF President Donna Yackel.
The telethon's 30-year track record of success can largely be attributed to the experienced and steadying hand of Meuse and his crew of technical helpers and camera operators who return annually to volunteer, according to Yackel.
"Gary has a plethora of knowledge of all things telethon," said Yackel. "The technical part he has down to a science, and he's a great
As might be expected approaching such a milestone event, Meuse said many of his friends and acquaintances have asked him a similar question: Just how much longer does he plan to go on calling the shots for the DSF Telethon?
"That seems to be the million-dollar question, because a lot of the people who come back every year to help tell me, 'We'll do it as long as you do, Gary, but when you retire, we're going with you.' So there's a lot of pressure that I do feel to not leave it," said Meuse. "Someday, I'm going to have to walk away from it, but I really have no immediate plan to do that."
Meuse said he's still having far too much fun manning the controls of what has become perhaps the most unique, community-backed, fundraising event in the country.
"I have not found a town, a community, that does something quite like what Dracut does with our telethon," said Meuse. "If other towns do anything like this, I believe it's a one-day, one-evening type of thing. Ours has always been a four-day, 12-hour event. That, in itself, is unique, because there are not many communities where you're going to get that many people to devote that amount of time to an event."
Meuse's best analogy for the telethon is, "a big circus that we put on television," he said. "A lot of the stuff is scheduled, but a lot is off-the-cuff, as well. We bounce around all night, going from dancers to musicians, to auctions and the tote-board number, to folks who have come in and given us celebrity appearances through the years."
Yackel said one special guest she's hoping will attend the opening night is Bruce Hutchins, the former longtime Dracut High principal, who is credited with coming up with the original idea for the DSF TV telethon along with the late, then-Superintendent of Schools Christos Daoulas.
"We're also going to be running some clips of our telethons from past decades," said Yackel. "And one of the oldies but goodies we're bringing back from many years ago is the gong we used to ring before we had the (digital) tote board of recent years.
"We also have a couple of other surprises in store that we don't want to divulge just yet," added Yackel.
One of the "surprises" Yackel referred to will not be a retirement announcement made by the telethon's 30-year cameraman, producer and executive director.
"I don't want to worry anybody. I don't have any immediate plans to walk away from it," said Meuse. "But I will say with the ongoing renovations to the high school in the next few years, I am going to be keeping an eye out to making the telethon turnkey for the coming generation to take over."
The Dracut High expansion plan calls for the leveling of the school's auditorium, meaning this will be the last year the telethon is staged there, Meuse noted.
"Next year's telethon will be done partly from the band room, so we won't be able to go with the same large-scale, live entertainment," said Meuse. "It means the 2014 telethon will be a tricky year, and we may have to pre-tape a lot of acts, including the bands. But as far as 2015, we're excited because that'll mean a new auditorium, and new TV studio and big, brand-new way of doing things. That's sort of what we're looking forward to, although we have a lot of challenges before then."
Meuse recalled that In 120 scheduled evenings of the telethon over 30 years, it has only been postponed once, due to a massive snowstorm that shut down the show on the final Friday night of the first telethon, in 1984.
"We had to come back on Monday and go on for maybe an hour just to sort of close things out," said Meuse. "That was the only year we were actually interrupted. We've had challenging nights over the years since then, where we had snow and some groups decided they couldn't make the trip, but the show still went on."
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