Theater 2014 Blog Series #3 for the Shenandoah Valley

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Theater 2014 Blog Series #3 for the Shenandoah Valley
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Events, Shenandoah Valley, Surprising Sophistication

Wrapping Up a Summer Theater Series!

Technical Director, Musical Director and Choreographer

Today I experienced a rare Wednesday afternoon of fun and relaxation. I found myself sitting in the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre on the campus of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia watching a matinee performance of the regional premiere of the practically perfect musical Mary Poppins. As I watched Mary (Catharine Kay) descend from the sky, one smiles that fantasy is allowed to come back into our lives at all ages. This is the 31st year for the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre.

The major purpose of this theater blog series was as in the Producing Artistic Director, Harold Herman’s words, “introduce young audiences to America’s special art form of musical theatre.” I have also wanted to expose career opportunities in the theatre industry.  In March, I started interviewing not the actors but the people behind the scenes who make live theatre truly happen. I remember sitting down with ‘Bill’ Pierson and ‘Mac’ Bozman scenic designers.  As I think back thru each of these musicals for this season, I marvel at the diversity of the sets. Congratulations to a job well done. While watching ‘Mary’ fly through the sky or watch ‘Bert’ (Patrick Clealand Rose’ execute amazing jumps and spins, I think back over the words of Jennifer Adams and Cheryl Yancey that not only must a costume match the period but the actors must also be able to move and sing uninhibited. In this final blog, I move into the technical director, musical director and choreographer.

William “Will” Ingham has many roles in the theater department throughout the year but in the summer he is the technical director of the summer theater series. As technical director, Ingham is responsible for meeting budget guidelines and bringing together the individual designers under one roof. He is very aware of staying within the guidelines on what he refers to as “the cost of humanity” which is in reference to the hours the actors and backstage staff puts into getting these musicals to production. “For many of these people, this summer theater experience is the building of a portfolio for future jobs. Bringing together a musical is much harder than a play. Our audience has become more sophisticated and expects more from us.” said Ingham.

The musical is an American born institution which makes it very special. When asked how Ingham became involved in theater, he is quick to say he did not want to be an actor.  Coming from a family owned construction company business, Ingham took a wrong class in high school and found himself in theater. He found one of his strengths was in problem solving which has been a crucial asset as technical director.  With his family construction background, he could both design and build.  Today he loves what he is doing. His picks this summer are Mary Poppins most difficult, Spamelot most fun, and Man of La Mancha most passionate.

Matt Moffitt is assistant technical director. He runs the shop for the Summer Music Theater with over twenty people working with him from master carpenters to painters, to props to sound and electrical technicians. Our goal is to bring the “artistic to reality – a push and pull relationship.”  “As a young person, I knew I did not want to work in an office. The theater environment is a catch all for interesting people.” said Moffitt. “This is not the best paying job and tons of work, but I love it.”

Moving to the most essential addition that makes a musical what it is, is the position of Musical Director, Thomas “Tom”  Albert has been at Shenandoah Summer Musical Theater since its beginning. Today his full time job is the summer theater program. “As a young person in public school, I was not interested in music but that changed as my love for composition and composing grew.” said Albert. When you are working with copyrighted musicals, there is absolutely no freedom in changing the music. There are times when based on the musicians we have available I have to adjust the orchestration but that is only with permission. What I cannot do is listen to the musicals that have been produced by the movie industry since they sacrifice the quality for mass appeal.

Finally, one of the last areas of the musical is the choreography. Speaking with Robin Schroth, “normally there are no notes or directions for the choreographer. I have only seen a book of directions once for Fiddler on the Roof,” said Schroth. “I never finalize the choreographer until I have discussed what the set will be with the set designer.  Sets are not designed for dance. We have to fit ourselves into the space.”  Having danced all her life, her mentor was Hal Herman, the artistic director of the Shenandoah Summer Music Theater. “Dancing has been part of my life. I get immediate satisfaction, it is both fun and personally rewarding. For the dance major at Shenandoah University the goal is to give dancers as many career options as possible.  Dancers are encouraged to audition for as much as they can. They are encouraged to take voice lessons.  Today there are more careers for dancers as long as they are versatile.”

My thanks to the staff of the Shenandoah Summer Music Theater for sharing.  I hope that parents will recognize the arts as a viable living wage profession.  In the words of Bill Pierson –
“I have 35 years of never being on unemployment. Theater has far more jobs that people.  It may not offer the highest career income, but there is so much more to life and happiness that purely financial gain.”