Cumberland Times-News

January 10, 2010

‘Building the show’

FSU students use break to help stage popular musical ‘Cabaret’

Megan Miller

FROSTBURG — While other Frostburg State University students are using winter break to catch up on sleep, Dave Knotts, Joe Bohrer and Brittney Stakem have been working 14-hour days at the university’s Performing Arts Center.

“We come here at 9 a.m. and work until 11 p.m., go home, sleep for a while, then come back and do it all over again,” Knotts said.

What they and about 20 other students are helping to accomplish is no small task — pulling together a professional theater production of “Cabaret” in just two short weeks, starting basically from scratch.

Forty-two professional actors, musicians and crew members from Windwood Theatricals Inc., most based out of New York City, set up shop last week in Frostburg to organize the production before setting out on a five-month-long nationwide tour.

While they’re in town, a group of Frostburg students, most from the theater program, has taken the opportunity to help out and get some real-world work experience.

It’s the 11th year the university has hosted a theater group as it finalizes a touring production, and Cultural Events Series Director Mary Jane Plummer said the experience, though hectic, is well worth it.

“This is where they start the show,” Plummer explained. “They’re actually building the show here, before they go out on tour.”

And “building the show” means just that — anything from tweaking the stage lighting design to buying out all the plastic fruit from the local Wal-Mart to use as props.

Windwood Theatricals even has storage facilities in Cumberland where props and sets from former productions are kept until they’re pulled out and reworked for another show.

The students help with everything from building props to tailoring costumes to hospitality jobs such as organizing meals. Right now, the students work for pay like any other job, but Plummer said they’re trying to revamp the program into a competitive internship. If that happens, Plummer said she hopes the interns could even go out on tour with the productions for a while.

Several of the students working on “Cabaret” have also worked on other touring productions in previous years. Stakem works with the production’s wardrobe supervisor, Brittney Griffith, to make final alterations to costumes.

“I would never have gotten as good at costumes if I hadn’t worked here,” she said. “That’s for sure.”

“This gives us the kind of experience that’s hard to get while you’re still in school,” Bohrer said. “We have a professional lighting designer to give us pointers on things every single day for 14 days.”

One of the pros giving out pointers is a former Frostburg student, himself. Jon Wildesen, the show’s production manager and a native of Deep Creek, graduated from the university in 2004.

He’s got a stressful, sometimes frustrating job, but Wildesen said he appreciates the enthusiasm the Frostburg students bring to the work.

“They might not know everything, but if I teach it them, they’ll handle whatever I ask them to do,” he said.

Work on “Cabaret” will go on throughout the week. Three performances for the public will be given in Frostburg before the production packs up and heads out to its next location, North Branch, N.J.

Performances will be presented Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 16 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. To purchase tickets, call (866) 849-9237 or (301) 687-3137, or go online at ces.frostburg.edu

Contact Megan Miller at mmiller@times-news.com.