Amanda Fine, Stage Manager and Stage Mom written by Jane Orme
Amanda Fine is a jewel–she is stage manager for Beauty and the Beast. As the director of said show, I am so lucky to have her by my side, so before you read further about this remarkable volunteer extraordinaire, let me say thank you so much for all you do for The Merc Playhouse!
As stage manager, Amanda Fine works closely with me and the actors. Amanda explains how she landed at The Merc: “I was happy I was available and could say YES! My son (Orlo) is in the show and I thought it would be a great way to meet some of the younger members of our community.”
Amanda attends all rehearsals, “holding book” so that when actors forget a line, she prompts them, and working with actors on entrances, exits, and transitions backstage. Also at rehearsals, she takes detailed notes from Missi’s choreography sessions. During all of the performances, Amanda is the “go-to” for costume changes, props, problem solver, timekeeper, and full-fledged “Manager of Backstage.”
I asked her to “Sell” Beauty and the Beast to our readers and here’s what she said: “It is a classic story. You will be amazed how poignantly these kids portray their roles. You will love the energy on stage. You will see the love that has gone into making the magic happen. The cast has worked hard and they are ready to entertain YOU!”
I couldn’t describe it better.
The first time I heard about Amanda’s generosity as a volunteer was when she opened her home to one of our directors of The Merc Children’s Camp last summer for a week! Then she played Annie in The One Act Play That Goes Wrong in the fall. Volunteerism runs in the family. Her son Orlo has either been in or stage managed every show at The Merc since July, and her husband designed and built a fantastic set piece for Beauty and the Beast.
Who is Amanda Fine? Amanda grew up outside Philadelphia and participated in school theater productions but chose another path in college. She completed a veterinary degree at the University of Pennsylvania and later took up a position in Mongolia, where, as she describes, “my career evolved from livestock medicine to wildlife conservation.”
She married, had Orlo, and after eight years in Mongolia, they lived and worked in Viet Nam. From Viet Nam, they moved to Twisp in the summer of 2021. It was in Mongolia that Amanda reconnected with theater. She tells this amazing story below:
“When living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I was part of a community theater group called the UB Players. One of the more memorable events was a full production of The Sound of Music directed by the US Ambassador. I was asked to be the stage manager for the production and the cast and crew were an eclectic mix of diplomats, international school teachers, Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, and some very talented Mongolian musicians. It was incredible to see the show come together through the collective efforts of people from so many different countries and walks of life.”
So what brought Amanda, her husband, and Orlo to the Methow? She states that in many ways Twisp reminds them of the small town life they experienced while living and working in Mongolia. They were familiar with the valley and its many wonderful ski trails.
Amanda says The Merc Playhouse is a “very special place” with its dynamic live theater scene providing so many opportunities for youth. The Merc brings people together and “gives individuals a place to shine.”
Thank you, Amanda, for being the stage manager for BATB, for sharing Orlo with us, and having a husband who is willing to contribute his expertise.
We are so thrilled to have Amanda on our team!
Rowan Kelley & Asher Fisher
Interview by Anne Andersen, Merc Board Member
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in one of the Merc’s amazing children’s theater productions? We thought we would find out by talking to Rowan Kelley and Asher Fisher, two cast members of “Beauty and the Beast,” currently in rehearsal at the Merc.
First of all, I asked the two of them about their past experience in theater. Rowan, a sixth grader at Liberty Bell High School remembered that the first thing she did at the Merc was a summer theater camp. She loved that and went on to audition for a part in “The Fantastic Mister Fox.” She was cast in the role of Ms. Fox. She then played the part of one of the Candy Cane Guards in the holiday production of “The Nutcracker.” She realizes that when she lived in Seattle, she would never have had these wonderful opportunities, so she loves being involved in a small community theater like the Merc.
Asher, a seventh grader at Liberty Bell High School, shared that he has really not done anything before “Beauty and the Beast,” except some fun plays with friends and a role in the Missoula Children’s Theater earlier this school year.
Since they are playing the important parts of “Beauty” (Rowan) and “Beast” (Asher), I wanted to know what it is like for them to be in this particular play. Rowan explained that this might be her favorite role at the Merc because the rest of the actors in this play are so good and so well cast, and it’s really easy to work with them. She really likes the positive message of the play and the great characters in the story.
Asher shared that for him, the play is quite fun, although he does have a lot of lines to learn and not enough time to memorize them! He thinks that it is easier to learn his lines while moving his body around on stage.
I asked them both what they say to other kids who might be thinking about auditioning for a Merc play but are wondering if they could do it. They both said that, “the directors here, like Ms. Orme, are really great and do not judge you at all. They’re not harsh and they take you as you are … work with what you’ve got.” Their advice was, “don’t be scared to put yourself out there.” They both agreed that they have learned a lot about theater in all of the productions they’ve been in, and that starting with a small role and working your way up to a major role is a good way to build your confidence.
When I asked if there was anything else they wanted to add, both Rowan and Asher agreed that theater is, “a really fun thing to do and it’s a great way to express your emotions, express yourself, and work with a character that you like. It is not too hard, so you should put yourself out there and give it a try!” They wished that there was more theater at school but that overall, the Methow Valley provides lots of great opportunities. Asher said that he thought the world should be “covered” with acting because it helps you in a lot of ways that don’t have anything to do with theater, like building confidence, using your voice, and just being generally better.
I honestly don’t think any of us at the Merc could have expressed the importance of theater any better than these two! Be sure to come and see Rowan and Asher, and all of the amazing cast of “Beauty and the Beast,” in March!
January 6 & 7, 13 & 14 @ 7:00 PM
Sunday January 15th @ 2:00 PM
Doors open 30 minutes prior to show
TICKETS: $10 at the door, no advanced sales
WHAT TO KNOW: Sister Elizabeth Donderstock is feeling unappreciated in her Squeamish community and decides to try her luck in the outside world. She abandons her fellow brethren to their own devices in making her famous cheese balls. They quickly discover that her cheese ball recipe cannot be recreated and panic that she has sabotaged their recipe. Can the Squeamish be saved? Will the cheese balls ever taste the same again?
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.
Spotlight: Melody Langan
Interview by Katie Otte
Melody Langan is a familiar face at The Merc, having evolved as an actor in children as well as adult theater. Her acting skills began at the tender age of four in the cast of Robin Hood, and most recently, Melody performed on our stage in Adrift, a Liberty Bell Drama Company production. We are looking forward to seeing her again in The Nutcracker, opening December 2nd. As she embarks on her final year of high school and prepares to leave the valley, it seems fitting to feature Melody for the November spotlight.
In between her first time on stage and her work this fall, Melody has performed in Willy Wonka, The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte’s Web, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Twelve Angry Women, and her most memorable show, The Laramie Project. Sometime along the way, Melody volunteered to operate sound and lighting in our tech booth.
About The Laramie Project: it was one of the many theatrical partnerships The Merc and the Liberty Bell Drama Company have had through the years. During this production, Melody played multiple roles and shared that she “embodied many of her characters.” This experience resulted in self-growth, discovery, and a heightened awareness of her values. When asked what theater means to her, Melody commented that it’s her daily motivator helping her to wake up and embrace the day. She added that theater helps her make connections with her peers and our community.
Melody is currently applying to art schools and plans to obtain a musical theater degree. She hopes to act on Broadway one day and then perhaps become a drama teacher, as her teachers and directors have shaped so much of who she is. Melody’s advice for young actors is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, let go of insecurities, and become someone else for 90 minutes on stage! See you all at The Merc, where you’ll probably find Future Theater Teacher Extraordinaire– Melody Langan.
We aim the spotlight for the month of October on Phil Quevillon, board member, actor, and director extraordinaire, who has been a familiar face at The Merc Playhouse since April, 2019, when he first landed in the Methow Valley via Kansas and Illinois and auditioned for and was cast in Diner on the Way.
Since that time, Phil has been on stage in Rope, Breaking Legs, A Christmas Story, and curated/directed Coronanthology. He is a member of our programming committee, which reads, discusses and selects the shows for our season, and he is set to direct a readers’ theater production called The Battle of the One-Acts, which opens on November 4; in addition, Phil has signed on to direct a readers’ theater called The Book of Liz,opening in January, 2023 and a full production called Ripcord, which opens in September, 2023.You can understand why we love him so much!
Phil has been a consummate actor since high school in Quincy, Illinois (lots of improv and full stage productions) and later when he was a “regular” in community theater for 12 years, acting in at least 2 shows a year. He says that in addition to honing his memorization skills as an actor, community theater has afforded him dancing and singing lessons as well as free haircuts and cool costumes.
Phil’s “spare time” is taken up by running a farm with his partner Rose Weagant, operating a land/stonescaping business called Gardens West, and working with students in several after school programs. Right now it’s Dungeons and Dragons, which spun off from a gaming club established by Phil during the pandemic at Liberty Bell and Disc Golf, played on a 9 hole course Phil designed and built somewhere in the vicinity of the ski trails.
When asked, “What draws you to support The Merc?” Phil responded that because the theater is small, he finds the space a creative challenge, thinking about how to make the stage visually stimulating with lights and sound. He shared further that as a director, he makes creative choices about how to make more out of the dialogue. The selection of a good, solid play is number one on his list of all considerations.
Something else the community should know about Phil is that he loves to emcee events. That’s good to know. He will be called!
Thank you, Phil, for being part of our community and our theater!