Local theater to get lighting facelift

By Michael Davidson

The Waco Civic Theatre is enjoying some time in the spotlight. The local community theater has not only received a $50,000 grant from the Rapoport Foundation, which will be used to fund a complete renovation of their stage lighting system, but has also obtained the rights to perform the acclaimed Broadway musical “Les Miserables.”

The executive director of the theater, Eric Shephard, said the majority of the money will go toward new dimmers as well as new LED and spotlighting instruments. He also said the grant, though unanticipated, could not have come at a better time, as the theater recently started experiencing problems with its current, nearly 30-year-old lighting system.

“It was unexpected, in a lot of ways, to get the money, and it was incredible that we got the full amount we applied for,” Shephard said. “We asked for $50,000. They could have obviously denied the proposal or only given us a portion of the money, but they funded the entirety of the grant, which was much needed.”

Shephard partly attributes the theater’s receiving of the grant to their genuine effort to remain self-funded and their attempt to solve problems themselves. Volunteers at the theater have recently repainted many parts of the building, installed new flooring, replaced air conditioning units and repaired parts of the roof that once caused leaking. They also installed a handicapped-access ramp at the front of the building earlier this year, in addition to buying a new light control board this past summer.

The new dimmers and instruments will help technicians light very specific parts of the stage, ensuring a more precise, pinpoint spotlight effect. Digital scenery projection is another aspect that comes with the new system. Shephard said this will allow the theater to produce a wider, more popular array of shows in the future, including the world-renowned play “Les Miserables,” which he is set to direct in the fall of 2014.

“It was a big deal to obtain the rights to ‘Les Mis’ as this show means a great deal to me,” Shephard said. “The new steps we have taken will absolutely affect our production of this show. We hope to include an orchestra and a choir. If you’re in the audience, your body should quiver from the vibration of the noise because it is so powerful.”

For the past 20 years, the rights-owners of “Les Miserables” have been very protective of the play, only authorizing productions by high schools theater departments, even then requiring all actors involved to be under the age of 18. Recently, they have become more lenient, allowing different theaters across the country to direct and perform it. However, that window of time will close in March of 2015.

This news is not only exciting to the staff and volunteers of the Waco Civic Theatre, but also to the Waco theater community in general.

“The full version of the rights for ‘Les Miserables’ finally being released is a huge deal on every level in the theater world,” said Adam Flores, a St. Louis, Mo., theater directing graduate student at Baylor. “Even though it is an extremely popular show right now, only the boldest of the bold would take it on. Waco Civic is truly living their mission to the fullest in taking on this show.”

Though the process of becoming a renowned theater involves many steps and takes many years, according to Shephard, Waco Civic Theatre’s recent efforts and technological advances, without a doubt, aid his overall goal of their productions becoming indistinguishable from professional theater. Through this, Shephard also hopes to maintain a true community-based aspect and said he loved the idea of an audience member potentially seeing their local dentist performing on stage.

“This is just one of those pieces of the puzzle that makes the whole thing better in every way, and its very exciting,” Shephard said. “It’s life changing for this organization. Let’s just hope it’s one piece of many to come.”