H e i d e l b e r g
A journal memoir from the production Technical Director
and Roadside Theater Artistic Director, Mr. Dane Winters
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As we head into our final weekend, I can take a moment to look back at the journey that was our production of Les Miserables. It has been a remarkable and very rewarding journey and in hindsight, very brief. Lord, it went fast, didn't it????
I still remember the day in early October when Jim Sohre approached me with exciting news: "MTI has the rights to Les Miserables and is offering it to us first! Do you want to do it?" I remember thinking "Are you crazy?!" - followed by "Am I crazy?"
By then, I had learned I was going to be the new Entertainment Director in Heidelberg. I had already started focusing my attention on the program and brainstorming plans and possibilities.
First, the Roadside Theater is a much smaller space than the Stuttgart Theater Center where I'd worked for 13 years. I was excited about working in the more intimate Heidelberg space. I'd envisioned smaller, more environmental productions. I'd always admired the large musicals Vic and the Roadside Team had staged in Heidelberg. However, I had come to the conclusion I wanted to avoid the huge "warhorse" musical and plays. I wanted to focus on the immediacy, the intimacy and the audience interaction and involvement in our productions.
Thus, my first response - "Are you crazy??" How could we stage this incredible, rich, gorgeous, historical, not to mention HUGE musical?? We have a 10'6" ceiling and no wing space! Where are we going to store the "spectacle"?? How can we fire 20 flintlocks in the theater without the smoke alarm (not to mention the fire marshal) freaking out! And don't even talk to me about the "barricade"! I don't think a speed bump will be as effective. (I did love the subtlety of Terry Powell's suggestion - "Just have someone put their foot against the door.") And lastly - he has to jump off a bridge, for gosh sake!!!!!!!
Once I got past the "deer in the headlights" look, I had my second thought - "Am I crazy?" What a brilliant opportunity! What an incredible experience! What a gift for our community and what a coup for our program! Knowing the talent in the community, the commitment and enthusiasm of our participants, the skill and dedication of the amazing wizard himself, Mr. Jim Sohre - I am crazy to hesitate! And thus the journey began.
Looking back on it, presenting Les Miserables was one of the most exciting projects I've undertaken in many years. As a producer, I knew the show would have a major impact on our community and our program participants. That is if we fulfilled our part of the deal - staging a fine production of the show.
Obviously, Les Mis touches people - of all nationalities and walks of life. Simply look at the statistics of the production - the number of productions staged and the number of people who have seen it worldwide. To bring that to the community, to share this wonderful music and moving story with so many of our patrons.....well, it was a thrilling thought. I also couldn't wait to get this in the hands of our program participants. We have so many wonderfully talented performers here in Heidelberg. What an exciting thing to hand to them. As I mentioned above, the task facing me as technical director/set designer was a bit daunting. However, by the time it came for me to step into that role, I had been joined by a brilliant design team and a hardworking, talented crew.
I've known our costumer, Patricia Henry, for years. But it was our first opportunity to work "hands on" together on a project. Needless to say, her final product was stunning and impeccable. But what made it all worthwhile was the joy and fun she brought to the team. I am so glad we had the opportunity to work this way. Patricia's attitude echoed through the whole costume crew. Led by Elaine Young, this group of hard workers included Elfi Carberry, Sandy Sapatka, Jane Helfrich, Deb Jarzomkowski, Lynne Mattingly, Doreen Lococo and many others. As I would traipse through the "sewing room/green room/ladies dressing room" on my way to my office, these women were always there - smiling, ironing, joking, dressing actors, singing, repairing costumes and encouraging the cast. It was a fun and uplifting place to walk through. (I know, ladies - "Sorry, Sorry, Sorry")
I'd seen some of his work and heard many things about our lighting designer, Patrick Strain. They hardly did "Garcon" justice. On top of being one of the most brilliant lighting designers I've met, he is truly inspiring to work with. I consider it an honor to have had a chance to experience his humor, his talent, his patience, his energy and his sheer joy for the craft. My only regret is his departure this fall.
I am disappointed Patrick will be leaving soon, but am consoled in the fact that another lighting talent will be here for a while: Tim Clark, our lighting board operator, has been a real find since I got here. This Michigan lad is talented, adept, reliable, and a great guy to be around. Who knew woodpecker counters had such wicked senses of humor? Just don't use the word "go" in any context while he is running the show. On the lighting board, he has fast reflexes and an even faster trigger finger. He also has an outstanding theatrical eye and excellent instincts.
Then, of course, there was the "cavalry riding over the hill" himself - Vic Phillipson. Providence was smiling on the Roadside and me when he was able to come back for a few days. His smiling face was a glorious sight and a Godsend for our sound system the week before we opened.
Then there are my troops behind the curtains - the stage crew. Kerri Pangman, Brian Rausch, Keith Savage, Jen Spohn and Jan Wotring were (to use a phrase I hate to use these days but am left with no other) awesome. I was so incredibly proud of all of them. I put these five devoted people through their paces. I dropped this immense production in their laps. I handed them a cast of 52. I asked, demanded, harangued and expected so much from them - including the impossible. These five delivered everything and were ready for more.
The stage crew was there for every single person in the show. Not only did they handle every aspect of running this episodic production, they supported the performers in innumerable ways. Along with lifting bridges; moving 20 chairs in a tiny, dark space; pulling a barricade full of dead bodies; running fog machines; pulling scrims; directing 52 performers through outdoor rain and mud as well as indoor blackouts - they took care of everyone backstage. They were holding umbrellas, getting drinks, encouraging, band-aiding, laughing with and taking care of the masses of Les Mis. Thank you, guys. This would not have happened without you!
This was the core of our team - but so many more stepped in to complete the picture. When our talented sound operator, John Bailey, had to step out after the first weekend, Alice Greco stepped up and said, "I can do that." And she did! This on the heels of her planning and executing our opening night reception. Deb Jarzomkowski, Mary Brown, Freddie Paz, Doreen Lococo, Vicki Grimes, John Lavender, Sue Leibfried, Valerie Laragy, Patricia Gifford, Stephanie & Jackie & Robin Paoletti, Mike Pangman, Hatem Nadim plus many more stepped into to take up the slack from the departure of Susan Lunt, our business manager. They handled the huge flood of ticket reservations and kept the front of house going.
Our documentarian, Rick Haverinin, spent hours filming, editing and planning to document this special event. The results was, not only hours of wonderful footage, but also the funniest video documentary I have ever seen, made especially for the cast party. Cameron Mackintosh, eat your heart out!
I can hardly forget that building maniac himself - Brian Rausch. Little did the audience realize that deep in the bowels of the sewer (which Brian built) was an entire wonderland especially for Ron and Jeanne. Flowers, statuary, greeting cards and a stuffed sewer rat that said "I dream of Jeannie" greeted the Thenardiers. All done by Brian just to make them feel special. THAT is a prime example of the kind of enthusiasm and support the Les Mis cast and crew gave each other.
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