Keesler thespians step into multiple roles

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Heather Heiney
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Nearly everyone slips seamlessly into another role when they leave work at the end of the day -- but for several Keesler members, the role they slip into is on a stage.

Judy Madden, 81st Training Support Squadron training specialist, has been in theater since she auditioned for the chorus in Camelot in 1990 and said that she was immediately hooked. Now, she acts, directs and is the current president of the Biloxi Little Theater board of directors.

"It began as something I wanted to try when my daughters were getting older," Ms. Madden said, "I felt I needed something for myself and I immediately loved it."

She said that her favorite part about being on stage is becoming someone else and receiving an immediate audience reaction.

"It can be laughs, tears or applause. Sometimes it's total silence --- even in that you can feel you have touched them," Ms. Madden said.

She said that backstage work can either be constantly busy or very quiet and that it can be the most unrecognized and underappreciated part of theater. However, if it isn't done properly, the show can fall apart. For her, directing wasn't as satisfying as acting at first, but over time it has become special to her.

"When you realize that a show is going well because of the things you have asked your actors to do, it is an amazing experience," Ms. Madden said.

She has been directing a summer show for teens the last 15 years and said that it has become the highlight of her year. She gets to watch the teens give a production everything they have and discover new things about themselves in the process.

"I discovered as much about myself as those summer teens do in those shows," Ms. Madden said.

She said that theater is her passion and she hopes that more people from Keesler will get involved and help support the local theater community because without support from ticket sales, donations and fund raisers, the theaters don't have the resources to function.

Peter Harris, 81st Medical Support Squadron network engineer, has been in theater for about 20 years and has filled the roles of trustee, board member, set builder, actor, box office ticket seller and floor sweeper.

"For someone with no common sense it's a lot of fun," Mr. Harris said, "One gets to work as many hours as you can with no pay, very little recognition, in the company of folks that are not normal, to develop a product that only lasts a couple of weeks and the only possible pay back may be that elusive result called entertainment."

He said that a community theater is like any civic group and survives on the dedication and good will of normal people who are willing to take whatever time they can to support a good cause.  Some people spend a dedicated 40 hours a week supporting theater, but most people involved simply dedicate several weeks or months of their life for a single production.

Mr. Harris's most memorable moment in theater was when he got beat up by fairies during a children's production. He said that he played the part of a mean Celtic character who was involved in a fight scene with three teenagers.

"The lights dimmed and a dozen magic fairies appeared," Mr. Harris said, "The fairies proceeded to take me to the ground and jump all around and on me to the flash of strobe lights - the little kids ate it up."

Barbie Ragno, 81st Force Support Squadron general lodging manager, has been in theater since 1999 as a supporter, spouse of an actor, backstage manager and a member of the board of directors.

Ms. Ragno said that although being on stage was not for her, she enjoys being backstage.

"It is your responsibility to make sure all props are in place, actors are ready and once the lights go down the rush is unbelievable," Ms. Ragno said.

She also said that she enjoys meeting people and helping out where she can.

"Being part of the theater group is like being part of a huge family," she said.

She said that because being involved in a play takes up most of her free time, she wasn't able to participate much after her daughter was born. Now that her daughter is 5 years old, she hopes to work backstage for her first production this summer.

Barry Newman, 81st Training Wing sexual assault prevention and response program specialist, has been in theater for 11 years and has occupied many roles.

Mr. Newman said that he started out as a theater parent taking his daughter to and from theater rehearsals when she was 10 years old. Once, he was asked to help move set pieces and his role in theater began to grow as his experience increased.

He said that being backstage gives him a different perspective on the show and the actors. It involves long periods of inactivity followed by short bursts of chaos.

"We call it the magic of theater when a show moves seamlessly from one scene to another and all the technical aspects combined with the acting makes a believable story," Mr. Newman said, "It's really like a well-choreographed dance -- everybody needs to know what their specific job is."

Now he spends most of his time as an actor. He said that being on stage is more fun because he tries to create a believable character that the audience can relate to and understand.

"There is so much that goes into every production," Mr. Newman said, "You first need a show that people will want to see; a capable director and producer; a cast of performers; technical experts for lighting, sound and set construction; costumes and makeup; advertising; a location to perform; and rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals."

Currently, Mr. Newman is rehearsing for "The Teahouse of the August Moon," at the Bay St. Louis Little Theater which opens in June. The cast includes 18 men, eight women, three children and one goat.

Mr. Newman said that being involved in theater has affected many other aspects of his life.

"I've become more self-confident, especially speaking in front of groups," Mr. Newman said, "I think it has helped me to be more focused on the task at hand, learn time management, and also has probably improved my memory."

Steve Hoffmann, Keesler News graphic designer and staff writer, said that he should have been in theater his whole life, but got started through participating in church skits in 2003.

Mr. Hoffmann said that his crowning achievement so far was a one-man comedy show that he performed at the 2007 DC Fringe Festival.

"It was so therapeutic -- not only finally performing it, but developing, writing and discovering the story over the five years it took to write," he said.

Mr. Hoffmann said that theater is exhilarating and that it's the thing he does best in life.

"I'm a pretty shy, quiet person in real life," Mr. Hoffman said, "The analogy I think about is if expressiveness were water, most people let it leak out in everyday life. But for shy people, those leaks aren't there, so the water builds until it gets dumped out -- for me the place where I dump it out is on stage."

Mr. Hoffmann said that seeing a performance on stage can be powerful to audience members. It may deliver a message that they need to hear and he feels that it is his duty and responsibility to convey that message.

Currently Mr. Hoffmann is in the note-taking phase of a play he would like to write titled "No Comment." He said that in addition to the production of "No Comment," his goal is to participate in one theater production per year.

While each Keesler member who is involved in theater still has a role to play on the base and at home, they have made a place in their lives to step into someone else's role, even if for short periods of time.

"One thing that I heard a director say once that has stuck with me is that most people think that acting is about putting on masks, but it's really about taking them off," Mr. Hoffman said.