Retired musical director Susan Peters dies

Susan J. Peters, 74, retired musical director of the Theatre Department, died Oct. 18 at her home in Vestal. A graduate of Wellesley College, she earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master of music degree from Binghamton University and joined the Theatre Department in 1969, retiring in 2012.

During her 43 years on campus, she adapted and directed scores of theater productions for the University and also for the Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott. In addition, she collaborated on numerous original musicals, including the 1981 production Antics, the musical version of She Stoops to Conquer.

“Sue was a great friend and colleague with a great sense of humor, and you know how important that is during the stress of tech rehearsals,” said John Vestal, professor of theatre, who had worked with Peters so long that they had developed many “inside jokes” that the “youngsters” just couldn’t understand.

“One day we were sitting around trying to remember history and finally gave up and just said that we had probably worked on 50 or 60 productions together both on campus and at the Cider Mill,” Vestal added.

Peters instructed hundreds of aspiring actors and actresses over the years, and was especially proud of the Theatre 101 Introduction to Musical Theatre course that she created and taught, as well as a computer and synthesizer curriculum called Theatre MIDI.

Professor of Theatre Tom Kremer was not one to be involved in musicals until recently, but recalls Peters’ enthusiasm. “I do remember my time working with her as a time always filled with laughter and creativity. She was always a positive force, and I know that the students adored her.”

“Sue Peters was a fixture in the Theatre Department as long as anyone can remember,” said Barbara Wolfe, Theatre Department chair, on behalf of the entire department. “She changed the lives of so many students with her attention, support, training and, most importantly, love, that her impact is immeasurable. Her sense of humor, her extraordinary talent and her tireless dedication are greatly missed, but will live on in the lives and careers of her students and colleagues.”

“She was always supportive of our students, and many, who I am sure will let their views be known by some means, have gone on to successful professional careers,” Vestal said. They will be the first to give Sue major credit for their success and are thankful for her support, encouragement and training.”

A Facebook page created by her students included these comments:

Mark Cedar ’85, an audio engineer, said no professor has ever had a greater influence on him, and he remembers her opening-night speech to the orchestras: “No matter what happens, do not stop playing! I don’t care what you play, play whatever you like, just don’t stop playing… I’m sure Sue is still playing!”

Upon learning that Peters would love to have her students, friends and family sing a few show tunes now and then, Mary McCarthy ’10 wrote: “I’ll get right on it Sue. Rest in peace.”

Jeri Burns ’83 wrote: “Sue was my MENTOR! She was my main teacher during college. She was a queen among queens in my eyes… (and I played piano for nearly everything that happened in Bing theater for nearly my whole undergrad time, at the Cider Mill, and more. Learned how to musical direct at her feet in her office. Though I was in the background of the Theatre Department (crew members often are, as I experience, once again, doing tech for my son’s shows lol) — it was a formidable time in my life and certainly not background for me. That woman was a powerhouse and creative force.”

Nathan Gismot ’03 wrote that he was caught off-guard by Peters’ death, but his sadness is deep. “It’s a self-centered mourning, I suppose, in that I’m focusing primarily on my sense of loss; but in reality, thousands of lives are affected by this news.”

Gismot first met Peters when he was a 21-year-old transfer student who felt somewhat an outsider when he arrived. “There was some issue with my registration, and I was left scrambling to fill out my schedule at the last minute. Someone recommended I speak with Sue about squeezing into the Rep Company. Naturally, Sue greeted me warmly, assessed my singing (very) generously and welcomed me into the company with open arms. I point to that moment as the one in which Binghamton University theatre became my home. In the months that followed, I forged deep and lasting friendships, had incredible fun and began the process of cultivating my life in art (apologies to Stanislavsky) in earnest. Sue Peters, then, was the gatekeeper to, and facilitator of, my incredible journey of growth, discovery and enlightenment.

“That was a precious time of life for me. I sensed it then, and know it now. My heart is full for those years in the Binghamton University Theatre Department, and it breaks at the knowledge that Sue Peters has shuffled off her mortal coil. Godspeed, Sue. Thanks for everything.”

Former students and colleagues also made comments on the online guest book attached to her obituary at pressconnects.com. A sampling follows:

Sue Peters was my most memorable professor at Binghamton University. I had the honor of singing every week with her Rep. Company and even be the choreographer! She will always be remembered for her love of music and inspiration she gave to so many of her students. – Kerry Domanick (Knowles)

In 1988 or 1989, Sue was the first teacher to introduce me to the now-ubiquitous “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” (MIDI) in the university’s amazing Theatre Department. Long story short, Sue inspired me to declare a theatre major and pursue a career in show business. Sue made the study of music, theater, and electronics fun, and from the voice of another late Binghamton Theatre Department professor George Wellwarth, “the meaning of life, dear friends, is to have fun.” Godspeed, dear mentor. – Robert Cotnoir

A passionate educator and incredibly vibrant and can-do personality. Had faith in my ability even when I didn’t have it in myself. She was the musical director and conductor of the only 2 musicals I ever did, and that was 30 years ago. Despite the distance of time I still remember her dedication, direction, coaching and coaxing to get a reluctant singer to perform in front of an audience. Binghamton has lost an institution. – Bruce Friedman

Also a gifted concert pianist, Peters is survived by her mother, three sons, two sisters, three grandchildren, several nieces and nephews, and her long-time partner, Fred Mellert. In her memory, she would love her students, friends and family to sing a few show tunes now and then. The Department of Theatre will hold a memorial celebration of Peters’ life in the future and is dedicating their next production, the musical RENT, to her memory.