Spotlight on The Hussey Family
Interviewed by Anne Andersen
Theaters survive on the shoulders of behind-the-scenes workers who create sets, operate tech, build and collect props and sew costumes, all without a single standing ovation. We are so lucky at The Merc to have an entire family that has the skills and knowledge and most importantly, the interest and passion for theater to play these critical "roles" in performance after performance. They are amazing, as you will soon realize after reading this interview! Enjoy and thank the wonderful Hussey family, Darla, Dean and Kenny, the next time you see them!
1) How did each of you first get involved at The Merc?
Dean: When we moved here, mom figured The Merc would be a good way to make friends. They needed a sound tech for Willy Wonka in 2014 and zip, zap, zop, here we are. By the way, mom was right — I have made amazing friends here.
Darla: I moved my family here to take a job at the MVN. I tried to get the kids involved in things to help them make friends, The Merc seemed a perfect fit for Dean. As a former (but never re-formed) theater nerd, it was only a matter of time until I followed along. I dipped my toes in when I helped Dean master the tech for the real-time sound mixing used in Diabolical Elixir (it was overwhelming for a 14-year-old guy). And it was all over when Rod Molzhan asked me to do the face painting for Wind in the Willows in 2016.
Kenny: I was the only human in the 2016 production of Wind in the Willows.
2) What different kinds of roles have you filled on stage or behind the scenes? In which productions?
Dean: With the exception of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, my contributions have been in the sound category. I’ve been the go-to sound tech for years and I’ve done a lot of sound editing and mixing. I have even written some original music — Bike America’s soundtrack was my senior project & I’ve done some original songs for The Nutcracker this year. I took to the stage for The Curious Incident … because, as an autistic person, I wanted to lend my lived experience to this important production. You asked which productions — there are 28 on my Merc resume, so if you want me to list them, let me know.
Darla: I have run sound, I have run lights, I have been stage manager for a couple of shows, I’ve dressed the windows in balloons, and designed posters & playbills. I have done props, I have done a LOT of makeup and a LOT of costumes. I think I worked concessions once or twice. I don’t know that I could pull together a complete list, but notables: First time with the face paint was Wind in the Willows … I think I helped with costumes on that show as well. Props: Peter Pan, where most props and some costumes were done with balloon twisting. The Nutcracker: Creating 65 costumes.
Kenny: I performed in pretty much every kids' show from Wind in the Willows until Fantastic Mr. Fox (the original cast). I ran the lights for the Fantastic Mr. Fox redux … that was bittersweet. Running the tech booth is fun with Dean and I’m doing lights for The Nutcracker now. Recently, I’ve been hired as a custodian for The Merc. Mom ropes me into modeling a lot of costumes, but we won’t talk about that.
3) What is your favorite experience at The Merc? Explain!
Dean: Hands down, Bike America. Writing the entire soundtrack and experiencing the cast & audience's reactions was amazing. It inspired & emboldened me to write other soundtracks … you should check my Sound Cloud account https://tinyurl.com/35m4kckv to hear one I’m writing for my favorite book. Bike America showed me that my disability doesn’t define my ability to do important things with my talents. I didn’t use to know that.
Darla: Watching my kids grow from young boys struggling to fit into the world into talented, confident young men who know they are valued by the entire Merc family. As a single mom to two kids with some extra challenges, the acceptance, support and love we’ve found in this theater have made all the difference in our worlds. I am somewhat obsessed with making sure other people — especially kids — who need a place to belong can find it here.
Kenny: Being a crocodile with a balloon tail. It was ridiculous and the metallic leggings were the height of fashion.
4). What has been your biggest learning curve/challenge working at The Merc? Your biggest success?
Dean: My biggest challenge is trying to balance “hell week” and help my mom run our store. This is a lot harder to do when working than it was when I was going to school. My biggest success was being the second recipient of the Carolanne & Egon Steinbach Volunteer Award … my mom was the first ever & I got the award on my birthday. It made me feel like I had done something very important.
Darla: Costuming the Nutcracker has been the biggest logistical challenge … it’s a lot of costumes that need to be staged in a tiny little space. Logistically, it will also either be my biggest success or … unsuccess … depending on how it all goes! Painting the faces of 20 wiggling actors in an hour is a pretty close second (that’s 3 minutes per face, by the way) …
Kenny: Early on, it was hard to figure out how to express emotions with physical actions. Nonverbal communication skills are a struggle for many autistic people — acting has helped me with that a ton. Recently, my brother needed me to take over as sound tech for a show and I only had a couple of days to learn it … that was scary … but I did fine. He’s a good teacher.
5) As our premier theater “family,” what is it like being involved with The Merc together? Could you recommend it to other families?
Dean: It’s fun, but it’s also exhausting. Watching the costumes come together is pretty cool — I’m learning things from my mom I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. The way she imagined, invented and then made The Nutcracker’s tea bandoliers was super interesting.
Darla: It’s like being that crazy, embarrassing parent at your kids' sports games except there aren’t any referees and they let you play as well. Every time I am part of a multi-generational production, I see adults discovering newfound respect for young people & young people realizing that adults aren’t actually evil overlords. I love it every time I get to work side by side with my kids, even when it’s hard … I am always learning new things about them. I highly recommend it to other families.
Kenny: We don’t do a whole lot together except theater. We used to hike sometimes, but now that we’re older and mom & Dean run the print shop, theater is the thing we all do together. And I have a lot of memories of doing theater together. I would absolutely recommend it to other families … spending time together however you can is good.
6) Finally, what are some of your most memorable moments at The Merc? Funny, scary, embarrassing, etc.
Dean: I had to learn a new sound software & do one of the hardest sequences I’ve ever done for Chicago — that was scary.
Darla: Fixing someone’s costume by cutting apart hair ties and tying them together to make elastic. I think we were trying to hold up pants … I was terrified that one of the knots would come untied. I now pack an entire toolbox of costume rescue options to every production.
I just spent pretty much the entire Thanksgiving Day working on last-minute costumes with my mom. While it may not have been a Norman Rockwell-worthy holiday, it was an amazing way to spend time together building memories. Every production has new worst/best/mosts and they are always priceless.
Kenny: The backstage shenanigans of young actors are many. Getting dressed in a closet with 8 other boys is the only really unpleasant thing I can recall. The live band in Twelfth Night was a very memorable experience and very different.
7) Anything else you want to say??? Last chance!!!
Dean: I really appreciate all of the opportunities that The Merc has given me and the things I’ve been able to do because of my work at The Merc.
Darla: So many things. The arts are SO important in a community, but what The Merc brings to the actors & the community transcends cultural contributions. Theater can make audiences see things from a point of view that doesn’t come naturally to them … our theater also helps the cast & crew see themselves in ways they might never have otherwise believed possible.
Kenny: I like the opportunity that it gives me to be part of a larger team effort and make it come together. It’s beautiful to see the culmination of everyone’s hard work come to life. It’s painful when we have to strike the show, but also wonderful knowing we made something unique together.