Thursday, June 24, 2004

Footlighters' 'La Mancha'
all set to compete

By Jackie Demaline
Enquirer staff writer

Last Saturday, when most of Cincinnati was enjoying a perfect summer day, the cast, orchestra and crew of Footlighters' Man of La Mancha gathered inside the Stained Glass Theatre in Newport to spend an afternoon raising and breaking down a set again and again.

What: 2004 Southwest Regional OCTAFEST and ACT Greater Cincinnati Convention

Excerpts: 7:30-10:30 p.m. today, 7:45-11:30 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Parrish Auditorium, Miami University Hamilton Campus, Peck Boulevard. Man of La Mancha is performed at 8:30 p.m. Friday; for a complete OCTAFEST schedule go to Cincinnati.Com, keyword OCTAFEST.

ACT Banquet: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Best Western Springdale, Sheraton Lane (off Springfield Pike/Ohio 4.)

Tickets: $40 Excerpts/Banquet/Awards Party; $28 Banquet/Awards Party; $28 Excerpts/Awards Party; $18 Excerpts; $8 Awards Party.

For more information:
895-0099 or

The goal was to get an elaborate dungeon set, complete with a scarily unwieldy 14-foot tower, in and out of a 10-by-10-foot storage area in five minutes. Director Dennis Murphy was relaxed, which suggests he's a good guy to have around in a crisis.

La Mancha, originally produced last October, will represent Footlighters in the annual Southwest Regional OCTAFEST competition starting tonight and continuing through Saturday.

Almost 1,000 community theater performers, musicians, directors, designers, backstage crew and fans will converge on the Miami University-Hamilton campus where 17 area member theaters of the Ohio Community Theatre Association will vie for a slot in statewide competition over Labor Day weekend by presenting 20-minute excerpts of their best work from the last season.

As good as the excerpts can be, a lot of the real drama goes into preparing them.

Putting together the La Mancha excerpt means bringing the company of 37 back together, preparing the best segment and hustling the set pieces, props, actors and musicians on stage in the five minutes allotted by OCTA is almost as much of a production as the Don Quixote musical itself.

Once La Mancha got the nod in mid-May, explains Murphy, "We had about two weeks to get the cast (of 19) confirmed, to get the (performance) rights, to make (cast and crew) substitutions, to work out conflicts and choose a slot."

Murphy had long since decided that if La Mancha were Footlighters' choice, the excerpt would be the show's emotional finale, which includes a deathbed scene, the Inquisition and culminates in the ensemble singing "The Impossible Dream."

It's a complicated scene with a big set and demanding lighting effects, which could turn out to be just one more thing that could go wrong.

As soon as La Mancha was named, Murphy had to redesign the set. The playing area for OCTAFEST is one-third smaller than Footlighters' stage. (If the show makes it to state, this year in Cincinnati, it will have to be redesigned again.)

On Saturday, Murphy orchestrated the set-up in three waves.

In the first wave, music director Linda Abbott leads the musicians out with instruments, chairs and stands.Lighting designer Eric Bardes has built a portable lighting system and quickly does spot light set up.

Platforms are hauled on stage allowing Cervantes to climb a stairway from the dungeon to his trial by the Inquisition for the show's finale. Next are drapes, a light board, bed, trunk and props.

Walls and stairs come on in wave two.

The scariest part of the set is the 14-foot "tower" which comes in the third wave, along with an archway and other flats at the rear of the playing area.

The company took their time on the first try, but even so the tower wavered dangerously. More crew was assigned, positions changed.

After each set up, the company had to take it apart again and return it to storage to start again.

Master strategist Murphy and his willing army had it all under control by the third try, even with some adrenalin-charged moments getting the tower into place.



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