February 2018

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February 2018

Thoughts from Mark Shanda

USITT President

While visiting my wife’s parents over the holidays, we spent some time going through old family papers to continue to learn more about our past and to find new genealogical connections. One treasure that we unearthed was the program for a May 13, 1938, production of The Adventures of Robin Hood by Owen Davis that was presented by the “Dramatic Department and Sponsored by the Senior Class” of Perry High School in Perry, Iowa. In this undoubtedly landmark production, the role of Little John, described in the program as “Robin’s right hand man,” was played by my wife’s uncle, Donald Christisen. With this discovery, I felt a new sense of kinship to Uncle Donald, because I had once played Little John in my fourth-grade class production of Robin Hood. However, this wasn’t the best find in this historic program.

Following the cast list of the 33 students involved, a detailed “synopsis of scenes” for the three acts, and a listing of the “Musical Program” being provided by the “Social Orchestra” of the school, the next part of the program that caught my eye identified two additional groups of students: the “Stage Force” and the “Property Force.” While in my heart of hearts, I firmly believe that nearly every successful production relies on the design and technical talents of many who would never wish to appear on stage, I had never heard of them referred to as “Forces.”

The 15 students listed in the two forces were no doubt integral members of the production team, and although I did not recognize any names as past or current members of USITT, I could imagine that that these students were kindred spirits with all of us in the Institute. Despite the cutback in the arts that we have seen in so many places, thousands of students each year are introduced to the love of live performance through a locally produced school play. And as each unique student production team is assembled, there is a bond that can take root to both the art form and to the collaborative strength of all involved.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could resurrect the group titles of “Stage Force” and “Property Force” in place of stage and props crew. Or better yet, have these groups of talented technicians recognized for the true force for production that they represent, rather than be relegated to sometimes being referred to as “techies.” While those of us who work daily in the educational or commercial realms of live entertainment can easily look down on these amateur school plays, many of us got our start in such an environment.

What was your “Little John” moment that introduced you to this field? How can you share your excitement in the possibilities that just such an experience created for you? Take some time this spring to attend a local high school production. Whether a musical revival or one more staging of Our Town, it could do all of us good to experience once again the excitement shared by those newly engaged theatre students on and back stage and recognize the true force that we all share.

Mark Shanda

We'd like to hear your comments on this story.
Please e-mail Mark at mark.shanda@uky.edu.