Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center- part 70

Part 70: Everything has its Season, Everything has its Time.

It was January 2017 and my husband Andrew’s concert at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center was just around the corner. “From Highlights to Shadows: A Choral Scenographic Journey” was the title. All advertising included the description “The scenic art of Thomas Gibbs Moses set to the music of Whitacre, Gjeilo, Paulus, Parry and many more!”

As guest conductor for the group “Singers in Accord,” he was well into rehearsals by now, having first proposed the concert over a year ago. He still did not know whether there would be any scenery hanging in the theater for his concert and would receive no assurance until the week of the concert.

Poster for my husband’s concert.

On November 29, 2016, the general director of the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center emailed, “We are working on the scenes you requested for the February 11 show. I wanted to confirm the particular scene you have in mind as item 1, Desolate/new Jerusalem. Is the attached scenes from the 19th the one you had in mind? If so, how many of the lines do you want. As you can probably imagine, we are making painful choices adapting the Fort Scott Collection to our line sets.”

What painful choices I wondered? The scenery organization for the new rigging system had been determined since December 2015. I had worked extensively with Paul Whitaker of Schuler Shook to make sure that only a few leg drops needed to be removed due to spatial restrictions as the Ladd theater contained fewer lines than the Fort Scott stage. Furthermore, the general director had emailed a page from the Fort Scott scenery book that I had created a year ago to reference with my husband. That meant they still were using my book.

Page from the Fort Scott scenery book that created for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. This is the page that general director emailed my husband on November 29, 2016. At that time scenery was still being identified for the February 11, 2017 concert.

When last I discussed the continued email correspondence between the general director and my husband, there was no guarantee that any scenery would be available for his February Concert. Therefore, I helped him assemble a slide show for a last-minute “Plan B” option.

The general director also explained to Andrew that the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center had no one to handle the scenery, so he would have to find his own crew to move the lines. To be clear, he was told that the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center had no one to handle the lines. This would all but guarantee the damage of drops in the future. Andrew explained that he would have to find people to have on “standby” as there might (or might not) be scenery for the crew to handle; he had absolutely no guarantees.

The week before the concert my husband had still no assurance that there would be scenery hanging for his concert – the concert about the scenery. However, the general director explained that the drops were being moved to the theater the Monday before his Saturday concert.
For the dress rehearsal on Tuesday, February 7, Andrew couldn’t see what drops were hanging, nor use them at that time. Furthermore, there were the pipes for the newly sewn pipe pockets cluttering the stage, preventing the possibility of an effective dress rehearsal. Thankfully, he had his digital slide show all ready to go – just in case.

During the afternoon of the concert, Andrew arrived at theater early to see what was hanging. He had received no email relaying that there either was or wasn’t scenery to use and the general director did not have a good track record of either responding to emails or phone messages in an expedient manner anyway.

While there, Andrew discovered a woman still on the stage attempting to do some last minute work on the scenery. He watched her set up an electric hot melt glue gun and start attaching wooden boards to keep the cut drop from sagging loose netting on a hanging drop.

While working at home, I received his text: “It is not restoration. Just jute and hot melt glue.” I read and re-read his text a few times and then decided to ignore the whole issue. I could do nothing even if I had read the text correctly and I would hear about it after the concert regardless. I was dreading going to the concert that night and this new information doubled my desire to stay at home.
The CEO had selected individuals who had never restored any scenery before – they were simply preparing the scenery for hanging. I continued to try and think positive thoughts, such as, “Well at least the drops will be hung so that futures of generations can see Thomas Moses’ painting up close.”

When I entered the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center that evening and waited in the lobby to enter the theater, numerous people came up to congratulate me on the restoration and how wonderful it must be to work with my husband on such a unique concert.

I repeatedly had to explain that my involvement with the scenery stopped once it was delivered to the storage unit. I had nothing to do with the scenery or the individuals hired to prepare it for hanging. “Oh,” was their response as I could see them trying to understand why I had nothing to do with this scenery collection’s restoration and I did not elaborate.
I entered the auditorium with my parents and son to find our seats in the fourth row center. I had asked a friend to take photographs of the concert as I had no desire to snap pictures during the performance – I wanted to simply enjoy the music and watch my husband conduct the choir.

Whatever I had been expecting to see, it wasn’t the wrinkled and damaged paintings that were lowered to the stage throughout the concert.

To be continued…

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