TREAT YOURSELF TO SOME ROYAL ENTERTAINMENT THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
Talent abounds at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield, and not just on the stage. The many people behind the scenes are an incredibly dedicated and talented group, and are vital to the theater’s mission of “providing Pioneer Valley based actors, actresses, and theater technicians with a professional space in which to perform.” The theater, previously a movie house, opened in 1997, and has been providing live theater and entertainment ever since.
The current production is Forever Plaid, which runs through December 8th. Written by Stuart Ross, it tells the story of a semi-professional harmony group on their way to their first big gig at the Hilton Airport cocktail bar. Traveling in their red, 1954 Mercury convertible and rehearsing their finale, they are killed instantly when they are broadsided by a bus. However, somehow they manage, posthumously, to take the stage for one final show. This musical is funny, enchanting, and full of songs that are memorable for many, such as Chain Gang, Catch a Falling Star, Shangri-La, and Love is a Many Splendored Thing. Music direction is provided by the legendary Mitch Chakour, and it stars Chris Coffey, Brian Michael Henry, Bryan Austermann, and Tomm Knightlee.
Danny Eaton, the Producing Director, is the “inspiration for and founding member “of the Theater Project. He is responsible for establishing the calendar of shows for each season, has written original musicals, and has produced and directed many of the productions at the Majestic. His many shows have been seen locally, as well as in New York City and Chicago. In addition to his impressive education and background in play writing, producing and directing, he is the 2009 winner of the New England Theater Conference Regional Theater Award for Outstanding Achievement in the American Theater.
Go Local was able to have a “behind the scenes” tour of the Theater’s three properties, where amazing things happen to provide the shows and concerts for us to enjoy. We were also fortunate to be able to talk with several of the many people who apply their talents to make these shows possible. One of these people was Todd Kadis, Marketing Director and Treasurer. He, along with Christine Thompson, Wardrobe Mistress, spoke about the three properties that the Majestic owns. These include a production shop at the Baldwin Street Studio, the theater itself, and a house which is “home” to out-of-town actors while they are in a show.
Inside the production studio is a large, well-stocked workshop where the sets are built; a sewing room where the costumes are made; a prop room full of everything imaginable, from furniture and artificial plants to a piano, lights, and Christmas decorations; a costume closet which is neatly organized and stocked with shoes, hats, wigs, dresses, suit coats, and every conceivable type of clothing; and a large room used for a rehearsal space. It is in this rehearsal space that the floor is marked off to match the size and dimensions of the real stage, and the set is assembled and placed on the floor. Rehearsals take place here until about a week or so before a show’s opening. After “tech night” where the sound and lighting, among other things, are checked and finalized, the entire set is packed up and moved to the actual theater.
Kadis also explained about the Actors’ Equity Association, the labor union founded in 1913 to advance the careers of its members by negotiating such things as wages and working conditions. While some performers at the Majestic are in the union and others are not, all must audition for the shows. Kadis is also responsible for the familiar “Classic Raffle” held for the last 24 years as a fundraiser for the Majestic. This year’s vehicles are a 1964 red Corvette and a 1995 Harley-Davidson FLSTN, which will be awarded on December 31st at midnight. As Kadis summed up his time spent at the Majestic he said, “Some people play golf…I play theater.”
Another member of the production team we talked with was Dawn McKay, the Costume Designer, who has been at the Majestic for 7 seasons now. McKay walked us through the process she follows when creating her designs. It begins with her reading the selected play/musical several times to get a feeling for what is called for, followed by research into the fashions of the time, right down to the proper undergarments. She then meets with the director and the set and lighting designers to discover their vision for the play. Next comes sketching and culling pictures from magazines to see what fabrics and colors might work. Finally, when the actors and actresses arrive, measurements are taken, and more discussion ensues to determine what their vision for their character is. The theater has some historic patterns available, and McKay and the Wardrobe Mistress may be able to shop on-line or go “thrifting” to find appropriate garments. Sometimes, minor modifications to an existing outfit can result in the perfect costume. The time frame for this process can range from a few weeks to several months, but from the time they meet with the actors, there is only 2 to 3 weeks to complete the costumes. McKay stresses that all of the artists involved in this process collaborate as a team to produce a set design, lighting design, and costumes that work well together. The Set Designer, Greg Trochlil (who was unavailable for an interview) is “really very, very good,” said McKay. “His sets are beautiful…not too complicated for the space, but just right.” The correct lighting can make such a difference, she added, in whether the costumes stand out and show the correct color, or blend into the background.
Working hand-in-hand with McKay is the Wardrobe Mistress, Christine Thompson, who is also on the Board of Directors and Costume Designer for the Children’s Theater. At the beginning of a production, she works with the Costume Designer to take measurements, pull from stock what might be used, and makes the necessary adjustments to ensure a good fit for the garment. During the run of the show, Thompson makes sure the costumes are laundered and in good repair. At the end of the show, the costumes are cleaned and returned to stock or their owners. She also keeps the
costume closet organized, accepts appropriate donations of items, and loans or rents the costumes to other theater companies. Her favorite part of working at the theater is the people she meets. The current show, Forever Plaid, has been “loads of work,” she said, “but so enjoyable. We have a good team of people all around. Greg Trochlil has always been very helpful to us, not only in set design, but in using his tailoring and sewing skills to make sports jackets, gowns, or any other piece we may need.”
When you call the box office, you may be speaking with Katia Ball, a box office clerk and usher coordinator. She has worked at the Majestic for more than 22 years, and in 2004 was presented with a
“Howdy Award” for excellence in providing hospitality. Ball happily accepted the award from the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, but emphasized she was accepting it on behalf of the whole “family” that works with her.
Home for the Holidays is the theater’s traditional holiday production. An audience favorite for many years, “it is a homegrown production, created new each year.” Holiday cheer, songs everyone
loves, and visits from the Grinch and Santa add to the fun. Again, the music is directed by Mitch Chakour, and features the theater’s own talented singers and musicians. Home for the Holidays runs
from December 11th through the 22nd. Also for the holiday season, the Majestic offers a one-night (December 16th) improv comedy show, during which their troupe takes suggestions and inspiration from the audience. It’s a fun holiday themed evening full of surprises and antic comedy.
An evening spent at the Majestic can also include a visit to their café, where, an hour before the show and during intermission, you may purchase a beverage or snack. There is even a small gift shop
You should definitely consider attending a show at the intimate Majestic Theater, especially now during the hustle bustle of the holiday season. Relax, grab a drink and a snack, and enjoy the show!
The Majestic Theater is located at 131 Elm Street, West Springfield, Massachusetts, www.majestictheater.com or 413-747-7797.
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