Heights High stage crew lets the magic fly

Members of the stage crew on one of the many elaborate sets for "Mary Poppins." Photo by Krissy Gallagher.

Members of Cleveland Heights High School’s Vocal Music Department have enjoyed cheering crowds, bouquets of flowers, praise and admiration from all corners of the community. But their impressive four-day production of the musical "Mary Poppins" would not have been nearly as impressive—or even possible—without the time, commitment and expertise of the stage crew.

Heights High’s stage crew may exist in the shadows, but its work is front and center. The students spent months building sets, painting scenes, mastering the sound technology, designing the lighting, and learning to safely operate the flying equipment. Yes, that’s right: the flying equipment. Flying by Foy, the company that developed modern stage flying, came to Heights High to train three students—Dani Ontaneda, Michael Schomisch and Gabe Gosselin—and two parent volunteers so that Mary and Bert, characters in the play, could fly across the stage.

Stage flying is rare, especially for a high school production, said Keith Newman, director of the stage crew. “All the pieces have to fall into place: the right facility, the right talent level, and the right backing from building leaders. Everyone has to be on board.” And for "Mary Poppins," everyone was.

“Having a stage crew like this takes the show to a whole new level,” said senior Sylvie Crowell. “We’re under a lot of pressure. We have to keep everyone’s safety in mind. Plus be very, very fast.”

The intensity of the work takes its toll on the students, who don't enjoy the same recognition as the lead singers and dancers. “But we have a common goal holding us together, especially for a big production like this,” said Molly Lawson, a senior and stage manager. “Stage crew is like a family. We like to have fun and goof off, but we can be ready in a snap to get to work.”

That work pays off not only for the musicals, theater performances and public events that the crew works on, but also for the rest of their lives. Dani Ontaneda wants to be an architect and knows that his backstage experience has prepared him well. “Measure twice, cut once, as Linda always says,” he joked, referring to Linda King, prop master and 1964 Heights alumna.

Other alumni returned to watch "Mary Poppins," cheer on their old friends, or work on the show. Cory Molner (Class of 2004) was hired as the lighting designer for both "Shrek" and "Mary Poppins." Currently the executive director of Convergence-Continuum Theater in Tremont, Molner appreciates working with students, and said, “This is where they get their foundational knowledge. Some will stick with it in college or beyond and some won't. But the skills they learn here will last a lifetime.” 

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights,is a former district teacher and a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UHCity School District. A longer version of this story appeared at www.chuh.org.

Read More on Schools
Volume 11, Issue 12, Posted 10:03 AM, 12.03.2018