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Arts & Culture

Teen Stage and TV Production Studios "The Media Unit" Closing after 43 Years

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Scott Willis
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WAER News

A long-running teen stage and TV production program credited with increasing awareness of social and cultural issues in Syracuse is closing its doors.  The Media Unit has brought its free, award-winning performances to audiences in Central New York and beyond for 43 years. 

The Unit was a hands-on training ground for teens and young adults who were encouraged to develop characters and situations that explored heavy topics such as racism, sexism, and other biases.  Founder and executive producer Walt Shepperd says many times, teens or their friends experienced those same situations in their families or the community.  The performances also helped young audiences understand how theater can be an outlet and tool to idenfity feelings, explore new ideas, and push for social change.

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Walt Shepperd tells the story of how the Media Unit came to be after a shaky start.
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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
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WAER News
The walls of the Media Unit offices and studios are covered with old playbills.

Many might also know Shepperd as an award-winning journalist, mostly covering local politicians for nearly 50 years in the Syracuse New Times.  

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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
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WAER News
Subtle reminders paper the walls.

The studios at 327 Montgomery Street are closing their doors after 43 years.  An open house and equipment donation event will be held this Saturday from 12:30 to 4. 

THE BEGINNING AND THE END

The Media Unit had a rather unlikely beginning.  It was largely borne out of an incident that opened Walt Shepperd's eyes to the realities youth were facing in 1976.  

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Walt Shepperd recalls when it was clear the Media Unit was coming to an end. Tammy and Elijah also talk about what they'll remember most about their time with the Unit.

The end of the Media Unit was also about as uncertain and undetermined as it's early days, though Shepperd says it's been in the works for awhile.  Just like the beginning, it was the teens who decided its future.  

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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
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WAER News
Walt Shepperd, on phone, and alumni Tammy Reese and Elijah Sheridan before recording our interview.