Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Aug 19, 2014
10:07 AMStage Write
Stage Right/Stage Wrong: Wendy Jones Hill Makes Like MacGyver
PHOTO COURTESY OF FOUR SEASONS THEATRE
Jones Hill: "Let’s just say I now have a heightened awareness of the tech side of theater productions."
As anyone in the theater universe can tell you, there are times when everything on stage goes just perfectly: The audience is thrilled and a unique and memorable magic is created.
And then there are the times when the line gets dropped, the prop falls over or the actor suffers a Jennifer Lawrence-at-the-Oscars-level stumble.
Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive both types of moments, but it’s the really confident ones who are willing to relive and share them with us. She’s getting ready to star as the title character in Four Seasons Theatre’s production of Kiss Me Kate (opening Friday, August 22), but longtime local actress Wendy Jones Hill took a few minutes to tell us about the musical where she had to make like MacGyver.
STAGE RIGHT: Jones Hill’s sizable resume includes a ridiculous number of shows with Children’s Theater of Madison (CTM). That obviously means she’s touched the lives of a lot of young theatergoers, but the interaction that stands out for her most strongly occurred over the course of a six-year window. Back in 2002, Jones Hill played the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and afterward, a woman came up to her and placed her newborn baby in Jones Hill’s arms.
Fast-forward four years later, and a woman came up to Jones Hill with her now-toddler in tow.
“She said, ’This is the baby you held when you played the Blue Fairy,’” says Jones Hill. “It’s humbling that what we do reaches so much further than beyond the stage.”
STAGE WRONG: Once upon a time, Jones Hill played the Witch in a local production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. But unlike Meryl Streep, who’ll star in the big-screen version set to hit movie theaters this December, Jones Hill didn’t have the benefit of cutting-edge special effects to amplify her spell-casting.
Instead, she had an, um, “magic” wand she was supposed to use when she made her entrance. It was actually a hollowed-out piece of PVC pipe, rigged with flashbulbs, duct tape and wires that led to a switch she could flip to launch a flash effect. Jones Hill had to reconnect the switch, while wearing cumbersome witch gloves, every time she came off stage. Oh, and it weighed about fifteen pounds.
Wielding that piece of tech was recipe enough for disaster, but on the first preview night, the auditorium’s custodians also conspired against her. She was supposed to enter from backstage to a balcony, accessed by a winding set of stairs halfway up the side of the theater. To her horror, she discovered that both the door to the balcony and the next door up the hallway were locked. As she heard her cue approaching, Jones Hill had to improvise, dashing to the very back of the house and entering the theater behind the audience.
“The spotlight operator was searching for where my voice was coming from,” recalls Jones Hill. “I’ll never forget the look on the Baker and Baker’s Wife’s faces.”
Nor will she forget executing her magic wand effect thirteen (!) different times, holding the wires down with one hand while flipping the switch with the other, then disconnecting/reconnecting the wires to save the wand’s battery.
“That was probably the worst prop ever,” she recalls. “And to be given it when you have an audience. Let’s just say I now have a heightened awareness of the tech side of theater productions. These days, I’m more like ‘Let’s talk about how this is going to work before the show begins.’”