Queens of the Dark Side
Durango High techies take ?The Tempest? challenge

SideStory: 'The Tempest' redux

Seniors Maggie Arbeeny, stage manager, and Hannah Turner, lighting designer, prepare for a technically difficult production, Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”/Photo by David Halterman.

by Judith Reynolds

asting a spell. That’s what theater is all about, and Shakespeare’s “Tempest” is full of spells. The Durango High School production of “The Tempest” opens this weekend and runs through May 10. In this wondrous play, Prospero (Erik Andersson) is a man in bitter exile with stupendous magical powers. Andersson will create the role on stage, but in the control booth, or “behind the curtain” as it were, the stage manager will make sure everything looks like magic. Prospero will appear to be master of his island universe, but in reality, it’s Maggie Arbeeny and company who will make sounds crackle and lights flash – right on cue.

“There are 106 sound cues and 60 light cues,” Arbeeny said in an interview last week on the set of “The Tempest.” Add 50-plus acting cues, and you’ve got a task demanding precision. “The trickiest moment,” Arbeeny said, “comes when Prospero casts seven spells in a row. Each one has a separate light and sound effect. When Erik goes like this,” Arbeeny demonstrated with rising hand gestures, “I call for a particular sequence. Many of the cues have been programmed in, but I have to cue many others by sight. Timing is critical.”

Whether mounted by a professional company or high school drama students, “The Tempest” is a challenge for everyone involved, particularly “techies” – the backstage worker bees that wire mikes, shift scenery,and respond to the stage manager’s directives. And in “The Tempest,” the whole play begins in chaos. The drama opens with a shipwreck.

“In our production,” Arbeeny said, “everything starts in darkness with some music and cool sound cues. Pretty soon, there are thunder crashes. The house lights will start bumping, and the audience will feel as if they are part of the storm.” At this point, Lighting Designer Hannah Turner, the other Queen of the Dark Side, as the two senior techies are known backstage, joined the interview: “We discovered how the house lights really work,” Turner said.

“We experimented, and now we can involve the whole auditorium, the whole audience in the opening part of the story – just through light and sound.”

Thanks to major gifts from long-standing supporters of the program, the sound and light systems have been significantly upgraded, Director Mona Wood-Patterson said.

“With every show this year,” Wood-Patterson said, “there’s been something new that could be accomplished.” Wood-Patterson’s creative partner, Technical Director Charles Ford, hired a technician from Denver to install the new light board. “Now we have a quadraphonic sound system, new amplifiers, its truly wonderful.”

Once installed, Ford shepherded the new technical capabilities through several shows, teaching the students along the way. “He’s taught us everything,” Arbeeny and Turner said. Add natural student curiosity and a willingness to experiment, and you have a magical mix.

“We’re the main techies now,” Turner said, with four years of experience behind her and obvious pride of ownership. “We’ve learned a lot, and we’re making a point to pass it down to the underclassmen,” Arbeeny added.

“Maggie and Hannah are the linchpins on the technical team,” Wood-Patterson said. “They’re our backstage superstars. We give all of our techies Star Wars stickers that say: ‘Welcome to the Dark Side.’”

Many students want to work behind the scenes and on stage, she said.

“Maggie has been on stage as an actor, but Hannah has never taken a bow. They both love tech, and now they’ll

be graduating. We will miss them.”

Next fall both students will be in college, but not necessarily majoring in theater. Arbeeny will be a pre-med student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and Turner will be studying chemical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, in Golden.

“But theater will always be part of our lives,” Arbeeny said. Turner added: “Whether we are in the audience or maybe backstage helping out in community theater, this is in our blood. We’ll always love theater, but for now, this week and next, we’re running tech.” •