Seventeen-year old Owen Gibbs is tall, so he’s used to looking down a lot. But these days he is looking ahead, to performing in the Shelter Island School spring musical, graduating and going away to college in the fall.
“Six-four is my height, my brother is six-five and my sister is five-eleven,” Owen said. “My mom always wished we had higher ceilings.”
He’s the son of Karen and Jacob Gibbs, lifelong Shelter Islanders who met working on the North Ferry, where his dad still works. The youngest of three, Owen and his siblings attended the Shelter Island School. His sister Alexis now works as a nurse in Baltimore, and his brother Spencer attended Coastal Carolina College and is going into the U.S. Army.
Rounding out the family is a cockatiel named Peekycheek and a cat who looks out the window and chirps. “It’s weird,” Owen admitted.
In his middle and high school years, he developed his musical gifts, and with the guidance and encouragement of music teacher Jessica Bosak, he participated for five years in the Suffolk County Music Educators Association, singing in an annual competition before a judge in a variety of genres, including songs in Italian and German.
“I like a song as long as the beat is nice,” Owen said, “and I like Broadway songs.”
In 2017, he was the only Shelter Island student to be selected to the All State Mixed Chorus and performed as part of the 82nd annual winter conference of the New York State School Music Association in Rochester, one of 35 tenors chosen in New York State.
Always an avid science student, Owen particularly likes biology. The hands-on nature of a dissection lab he experienced while studying anatomy started him thinking about a career in medicine. After an internship in the operating room at Eastern Long Island Hospital, Owen decided he’d like to become a physician’s assistant, a goal he could reach with four years of college.
He’s also one of the lucky students who has benefitted from Shelter Island School science teacher Dan Williams’ two-year guided research course. Owen decided to study the effects of nicotine in Planaria, a type of flatworm. “I’m looking at the effects of nicotine on worms and seeing how they react. They curl or twist under stress,” he said. “I know that people now are switching over to vapes, and they have a lot of nicotine, so I thought I’d start by finding out how nicotine affects something small.”
Going to school with the same two dozen people for one dozen years has convinced Owen it’s time to explore new places and spread out at a bigger college.
“I know everyone. It would be nice to expand a friend group,” he said. “It’s a positive being here sometimes, but negative because if you get on someone’s bad side you can’t get away.”
In the summers, Owen works at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, cleaning clubs and tending to the members, the perfect job for a guy who doesn’t like working outdoors in cold weather. He’s also a strong golfer, who made it to county competition on the school’s team.
Although he’s enjoyed music all his life, it took some arm-twisting from his mother to get him to try out for the school musical in 8th grade. “She basically forced me to do it,” he said, “In the long run I have to thank her, because now I love it.”
The show was “Annie Warbucks.” Owen’s part was a single line at the very end of the show, apparently delivered convincingly enough to get a part in “The Drowsy Chaperone” the following year, singing a duet. He has gone on to bigger roles each year.
Rehearsals are underway for this year’s musical, “The Addams Family.” Owen has been cast as Gomez, a leading role. He’s still working on the accent. “It’s going to be fun,” he said. “My character wears a striped suit and speaks with a Spanish accent, but so far they tell me I sound Indian.”
He described the process of directors Anu and John Kaasik: “They observe everything, take notes and tell us how to do better and be better. It’s amazing. You can’t tell who did what, but you can see that the outcome is really great.”
Owen said he’s come to expect some stage fright. “Usually, opening night is the worst. Waiting to go on, I’m just shaking. After the first scene I’m fine.”
What do you always have with you? My driver’s license. Having a license is very freeing.
Favorite place on Shelter Island? Reel Point.
Favorite place not on Shelter Island? The boardwalk in Cadiz, Spain, where our school group went two summers ago.
When was the last time you were elated? When I went to Massachusetts for a leadership camp.
When was the last time you were afraid? In October when I went to a haunted mansion in Riverhead.
What is the best day of the year on Shelter Island? A warm summer day.
Favorite movie or book? “Owen.” It is a child’s book.
Favorite food? Beef tacos, hard shell, cheddar with lettuce and sour cream, no hot sauce.
Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? I have not found someone that I really look up to yet.