This is part 1 of a 6-part sponsored series that focuses on the Renaissance’s passion of the arts and what it means for the community.
The public sees the polished, finished product of the Renaissance Theatre’s productions, but the behind the scenes view is just as magical. The work that goes into putting on such elaborate shows should not go overlooked, as it’s a whole production in and of itself.
Currently, they are gearing up to put on Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” a classic musical that originally opened on Broadway in 1957. George Swarn stars as leading man Harold Hill, and Leah Gesouras plays her first leading role as Marian Paroo.
Both reminisce on what got them into performing arts, and how their passion has grown. Swarn explains he had two options in middle school: choir or metal shop. He attempted to get into metal shop, longing to adhere to a “macho” aesthetic, but it was full, leaving him to attend choir, where he met Dirk Eachus.
“He made me sing a solo and it terrified me,” Swarn said, “I got scared, didn’t come back the next year, but felt like I was missing something. I’d go to all their performances and things, so I went back freshman year of high school and just wanted to sing in the background.”
“Eachus told me, ‘I’m not gonna make you do any solos this year, I promise, but I’m going to ask you to do one thing for me.’ He asked me to audition for the musical Grease.”
When the cast list came out, Swarn’s eyes went to the ensemble section first, where his name was nowhere to be found. He scanned the list until he reached the top, where he saw himself as the lead, Danny Zuko.
“It changed me. I love to perform and I didn’t know I missed it that entire time,” Swarn said.
When attending a production of “Arabian Nights” at the Richland Academy of the Arts in her youth, Gesouras was transfixed.
“They were doing the show and I just remember sitting and watching and looking at my mom and I was like ‘I think I wanna do this.’ My mom said, ‘okay!’ and I started taking voice lessons with Lori Turner and doing shows when I was around 16 or 17.”
She looks back fondly on being able to find something to look forward to, as it’s hard to know what one wants or what seems interesting at that age. Gesouras is content this is the character she landed for her first leading role, as Lori Turner, who is also in the show, has trained her in this style of music since she began.
“I think what’s exciting is that I have been singing this style of music, which is considered golden age, very classical music, since I was 17. That’s what Lori taught me – really all of us – how to sing. I consider this style of music the foundation of singing. In order to be able to sing this traditional style, you can sing anything else because it gives you structure and technique,” Gesouras said.
“It’s been a long time coming, and I’m excited to have my moment.”
Linda Turske, the costume designer, helps to bring these characters to life on the stage through their attire. She’s been at the Renaissance for three years. Her children did shows and needed costumes, she knew how to sew, and it blossomed from there.
“I had an alterations business for 20 or so years, and I was at the point where it just wasn’t fun anymore. The creativity wasn’t there. My son Jason, the set designer here, called me and said they needed a costume designer for ‘Sweeney Todd.’ He asked if I’d come to do it, and I said yes. I thought it’d be a one and done, but here I am. It’s been a lot of fun,” Turske said with a smile.
Many of the vintage pieces in the costume shop have been donated by community members, or found while Turske thrifts or searches at garage sales. Turske makes many custom pieces for shows, either completely from scratch or combining different items together.
“I rework a lot of pieces because I want to be able to use them over and over, especially the custom pieces that I’ve made for shows. If I can use them again and just tweak them a little bit, so it doesn’t look like it’s from Sweeney Todd or Hairspray, then we do that,” Turske said.
To gather inspiration for specific shows, Turske watches the original stage productions and studies the costumes used.
Her son, Jason Kaufman, Set Designer and Facilities Manager, studied sculpture before he got into set design.
“I have a degree in sculpture. A lot of those skills are transferable, I guess. But no, I didn’t have a lot of experience in theatre, so I’m learning that as I go,” Kaufman said.
He explains that Michael Thomas, the Artistic Director, has an idea and will present a model to the designers. For this show, they have about four weeks to build.
“We sort of go back and forth about the visual and aesthetic things, deciding colors and different details. It’s a real collaborative effort between him and I and the rest of the team,” Kaufman said.
“My favorite part is watching the shows, at the end of the whole process. I get emotional because of how much energy everyone has put into the process. The actors, us building, Linda, Michael, everybody who’s working on this. It’s just so cool to sit in the balcony and watch it all happen.”
The whole team is anxious for opening night, as all the hard work they’ve put into this will see the light. The Music Man opens Saturday, July 30th at 8:00pm. A matinee show is the following Sunday, with two more showings on August 6th and 7th.
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