Practically Perfectly in Every Way

August 1, 2015 | By More

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! This song is one of my favorites from the movie, Mary Poppins, which was released fifty years ago, and is based on the children’s books by P.L. Travers. The Disney movie, with its quirky characters and unforgettable songs, is a childhood favorite for so many. Besides being a wonderful movie, Mary Poppins has appeared on Broadway and even closer to home in the River Valley. My family and I attended one of the performances at the Center for the Arts at Russellville High School; I cannot speak for the others, but I was swept back to “jolly ole” London, England.

To say the performance was fantastic is an understatement. The songs, the costumes, and the atmosphere united to create a spell-bounding tribute to this all-time favorite. I am not an aficionado of the arts, but the talent I observed on the stage was “spot-on.” Just like any community event that the public attends, many long hours were painstakingly put into this occasion. Compare if you will a drama to a band concert, football game, or anything else you enjoy. The planning, the organizing, the sacrificing all started way before the ticket holders take their seats. Before the characters took the stage or sang a song on opening night, there was a lot of hard work that was put into making it so spectacular. The truth is that many people put in tireless hours to present this outstanding family experience. Getting to know the skilled people who were behind the scenes and on the stage makes the performances even more interesting.

Stage Director
“Communication with the actors and everyone else involved is so important,” stated Ardith Morris, stage director of Mary Poppins. Mrs. Morris was the one who analyzed and assessed every aspect of the production. “This has been the biggest performance so far at the River Valley Arts Center.” Typically, a production has one or two scenes whereas Mary Poppins had over eight scenes. There were over ninety actors; moreover, at least forty of those were children. It is children’s literature, after all. She had many compliments about the stage “moms.” They helped so much with providing snacks, organizing clothes, building scenes, and volunteering their time for anything else that needed to be done. Mrs. Morris elaborated about how the musicians practiced their music at home, the actors recited their script, the costume hands constructed the attire, and how everyone did their part individually; then it is so fantastic when it all comes together. She also complimented the parents of the very young actors stating that they “plan their summers around their children’s activities with the arts center.”

Assistant Stage Managers
One of the assistant stage managers is Katie Lynch, who has plenty of experience in musicals and dramas. “Patience, organization, and determination” are three of the attributes that help the performance run smoothly, according to Katie. During rehearsals she and the other stage manager would take notes and work diligently to make sure everything lined up for the upcoming performances. After rehearsals they would get together and compare notes and make any modifications needed. Katie is basically the one who was in charge of the lights, stage, and the set changes. The other assistant stage manager is Maegan Anderson, who also has plenty of experience in the theater. Maegan describes her job as “rewarding.” She was responsible for making sure the cast members were at the right place at the right time, and she also helped with costume changes. What she enjoyed most about her position was being able to see the entire process from beginning to end.

Costume Designer
Since the setting of Mary Poppins is 1910, the attire had to reflect what British people wore at the time. Rachel Green is the name of the visionary who spear-headed this crucial part of the performance. A newcomer to the River Valley Arts Center and mother of four, she conducted many hours of research before “sketching out the costume ideas and sharing them with the director.” She also stated that the collaboration with the actors, volunteers, parents, and others helped her to create the cast’s attire. Rachel did build some of the pieces from scratch, and some were revamped from other pieces contributed or “found” in various places. She enjoyed the fact that everyone in this community theater worked together. “Everyone gives it their all, and I am so thankful to be around such an amazing group.”>>

Makeup Artist
The young lady who was responsible for how authentic the characters looked is Lori Wilson, a choir director who recently gained employment at Ozark High School. Lori enjoys being in charge of makeup; she knows when characters have enough or not enough makeup. As she explained, “It’s a skill that comes with experience.” One of the challenges with this production was racing the clock to pull off some elaborate makeup changes for upcoming scenes. For example, the three muse statues in “Jolly Holiday,” who had to be painted entirely white with finely chiseled features, took Lori a combined total of forty-five minutes to an hour to perfect. After that scene all of the statues’ makeup had to be removed and replaced with different makeup for the next scene. She included that having a makeup team helped her accomplish her goals.

Scenic Artist and Designer
Jenava Harris, the Theatre Arts Technical Supervisor at Arkansas Tech University, is the artist who was responsible for the set designs used in the performances. Before anything was built, she immersed herself back into history to learn about the architectural styles of the time period. After creating her designs, she presented her ideas to the director. Then, the building began. The park scene, the interior of the Banks’ home, the chimney scene, the attic scene were of visual perfection. “The entire production team worked so hard to bring this world to life.” Mrs. Harris may definitely be called a “multitasker.” She was creating and developing these artistic elements while taking care of her newborn.

Music Director
Ken Futterer was the conductor for the award-winning music performed during the shows. Of course, all of the action revolved around the musical score, so his job was colossal. The auditions for the parts are usually held eight to ten weeks prior to the performance week. When asked about any challenges with this drama, he replied, “I feel like the captain of a river raft shooting the rapids. All is prepared, but anything can and does happen to change the pace of the voyage, as this is live theater.” He bragged about the talented musicians in the pit who made the part of the “white water rafting” a pleasure. Mr. Futterer’s involvement with this production started right after the previous show finished.

Main Characters
Who wouldn’t want a nanny like Mary Poppins? A bit strict, yet always focused…there’s nothing wrong with these character traits. One of the young ladies to portray Mary Poppins was Sarah Curlin, one of the sweetest young women you will ever meet. According to Sarah, “the four-day-a-week rehearsals started in May; then as time drew closer to opening night, the rehearsals were increased to five rehearsals per week. Sarah also did her research prior to the shows; her goal was to develop the character of the much-loved nanny as well as Julie Andrews.

Another one of the main characters is Bert, a good friend of Mary Poppins, who has a thick Cockney accent. Benjamin Stevens is the talented actor who filled this important role. Benjamin has been involved in the theater since 2002. To prepare for the role of Bert, he focused more on the character in Broadway shows instead of the movie. According to Benjamin, “Bert is a man, yes, but he represents the child in all of us.” What a wonderful way to compare a good-natured character to all of us.

Now, the skilled actors, actresses, and people “behind the scenes” are basking in the afterglow of a week of phenomenal performances. With all of the hard work and determination, Dr. Ardith Morris (director), Mr. Ken Futterer (music director), and many others may be enjoying a short catharsis now, but chances are they are already contemplating the next show. “Hats off” to everyone who helped with Mary Poppins.

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