Warwick Valley High School junior Nathan Durgin has been an elf since he was in seventh grade. It all started with a middle school job shadowing project, when he decided to learn what train engineers do all day. He figured, who better to shadow than the engineer who directs a train full of holiday cheer through town every year.
“It was really my interest in trains that got me into it,” said Nathan. “My family and I had seen the Operation Toy Train for years. We’d donated to it. So that year I asked if I could shadow the engineer. They said yes.”
Operation Toy Train - also known as Toys for Tots - invited Nathan to ride in the engine car that year, and he’s been volunteering with the organization ever since. He travels with the Marines and their crew to help collect and organize toys aboard their southern New York line, one of four trains in the region that benefit the U.S .Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation.
This year, Toys for Tots tasked Nathan to help build more awareness of the organization and its needs in the Warwick area. Nathan, a veteran organizer at this point, placed donation boxes across the district. Nathan isn’t one to toot his own train whistle, but the organization has shared that its advertising traction in Warwick this year has been more than they were able to capture in several previous years.
When he isn’t on a train, Nathan can be found on stage. He has been a performer since as young as seven and, as he puts it, does “a ton of performing arts” stuff. He is in both the drama club and Meistersingers at the high school.
“I started chorus in elementary school, when it was pretty much a mandatory course, and when it became optional, I already loved it so much that I stayed with it,” he explained. “When Mrs. Hanson encouraged me to audition for Meistersingers, I did, and I’ve been part of that since sophomore year.”
The Meisersingers recently traveled to Radio City Music Hall to perform an original arrangement of Christmas Carols. Nathan said that standing, quite literally, in the footsteps of so many legendary performers was an experience he will never forget.
“I walked out there and, being on that stage, seeing all those rows of seats and the lights, I just thought, ‘This is my place.’”
Outside of school, Nathan is a member of the Acting Out Playhouse. He will play the role of Mal in the company’s production of The Addams Family in March. Nathan also takes dance and vocal lessons on his own time, and is an acoustic guitarist. He has also played piano for many years and continues to study with a private piano instructor.
“We work on classical and other types of music,” said Nathan. “And I enjoy listening to movie soundtracks and learning to play those songs by ear.”
Nathan also performs well in the classroom and earned Cum Laude Honor Roll honors during the first marking period this year. He said science has always been an interesting subject to him, because he enjoys the hands-on experience of the scientific process, but that it’s really ELA he enjoys most. Interestingly, that is also because of the analysis involved. Specifically, figuring out characters, their personalities and what motivates them.
“You read a story, then take it and analyze certain characters,” he said. “The actor in me loves portraying characters and working within characters, always trying to develop my own ideas.”
Currently, Nathan has his sights set on auditions for the WVHS Drama Club’s spring production of Little Shop of Horrors. He said he definitely sees a future for himself in theater.
“It’s like a slight escape from your life, getting into the mindset of a character,” said Nathan. “You take on their worries, but then let them go when you’re done. It’s a hard thing to explain, but it’s something I want to pursue because, honestly, I just love the stage. It’s my favorite place to be.”
Nathan added that he loves how acting and singing contribute to other people’s happiness, and relates that to his work with Toys for Tots.
“I just love to see people smiling and enjoying themselves,” he said. “Audiences, my fellow castmates and, with Toys for Tots, knowing that people are going to enjoy the toys that I’m helping collect; I guess it’s all kind of wrapped up together.”