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Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District

Mary Poppins Stage Crew Brings Magic to Heights High

Nov. 5, 2018 -- For the past week, members of Heights High’s Vocal Music Department have been met with cheering crowds, bouquets of flowers and well-deserved praise from all corners of the community. But their impressive four-day production of Mary Poppins would not have been nearly so impressive – or even possible – without the time, commitment and expertise of the stage crew.

Heights High’s stage crew may remain in the shadows but their 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 who invented modern stage flying and “the most prolific and widely-respected theatrical flying service in the world,” came to Heights High to train juniors Dani Ontaneda, Michael Schomisch and Gabe Gosselin, along with two parent volunteers so that Mary and Bert could fly across the stage.

Stage flying is rare, especially for a high school production, says Stage Crew Director Keith Newman. “All the pieces have to fall into place: The right facility, the right talent level, and the right backing from building leaders. Everybody has to be on board.” And for Mary Poppins, everybody 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 can take a 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 Stage Manager Molly Lawson, a senior. “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 will pay off not only for the musicals, theater performances or public events that stage crew works on, but also for the rest of their lives. Dani Ontaneda wants to be architect and knows that his backstage experience has prepared him well. “Measure twice, cut once, as Linda always says,” he jokes, referring to Linda King, Prop Master and Heights class of 1964 graduate.

Other alumni returned to watch Mary Poppins and cheer on their old friends, or to 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. “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.”  
 
Stage crew switching props on stage
 
Crew member backstage

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