Theater 101: A Town Rich in Culture | Arts & The Sweet Qualities of Life in Fairfield

The last collaborator is your audience … when the audience comes in it changes the temperature of what you’ve written. Things that seem to work well—suddenly become a little less relevant … or a little whatever. And so you start reshaping from an audience.    —Stephen Sondheim

Deep into this stunning, if not slightly wet summer, the first summer season of fabulous musical theater is underway at the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts. Robby Benson’s Open Heart was the brilliant kick-off. Many thanks to those who helped get the word out, ventured the flooded roads from out of town to see the show, and all the Fairfielders who simply walked through the doors and enjoyed live musical theater right here in Fairfield, Iowa.

I say that a lot—“right here in Fairfield.” I remind myself I’m here, not in Eugene, OR, or Madison, WI, or Burlington, VT, all places I have called home in the last eight years; all hardcore and brilliantly rich in art, culture, community, and a seriously sweet quality of life. I’m here in Fairfield where the seeds of our art, culture, and community continue to be sown, to sprout and bloom. This is good to remember.

Since we’ve last met on the pages of The Source, I’ve learned a truckload about the lively realm of theater. All present have benefited and soaked up Robby Benson’s flood (the good kind) of creative and collaborative energy. Add 18 vital student interns from hither and yon to the mix and, well, the place has been hopping, to say the least. The most impressive nugget to note was the degree of teamwork and egoless collaboration going on. Robby seemed to inspire this in everyone. I’m aware more than ever how essential collaboration is to creating an alive, well-rounded experience and, in this case, great professional musical theater.

Before I carry on my merry way about what’s next on the Sondheim Center horizon, let us slip into some theater lingo and lore, shall we?

The Scottish Play: I first encountered the notion of this unmentionable, iron-clad superstition while doing costuming for Hair back in the day. I remember it was a big no-no to even jokingly attempt to say it; a good way to make enemies with theater peeps. If you haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about, there is a Scottish play by William Shakespeare called—I’m almost afraid to type it—MacBeth. It is very much considered bad luck to say this word in a performing arts theater. One story I’ve encountered is that it was common many moons ago for floundering theaters to fire their entire company of actors and hire a new cast to put on a production of MacBeth, which was regarded as one of the most popular shows of the time. Thus it was considered bad luck to mention this play because it could mean the end of your job was near.

Half or Final Call: The time before a performance by which all actors must be present in the theater—commonly half an hour before curtain up.

House: The theater, the people in the theater, the audience.

Off Book: At a stage in rehearsals when the actors are no longer using their scripts, as lines have been committed to memory.

Overture: The orchestral beginning to the show, usually incorporating many of the familiar themes of the musical into it. It gets the audience into the spirit of the musical before the show begins.

Proscenium: The boundary between the stage and the audience in a conventional theater; it appears to form an arch over the stage from the audience’s point of view. In some cases, it does create an arch over the stage.

Joseph in July

Up this month at the Sondheim Center: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mega-hit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Though it’s based on a story from the Bible, this playful show doesn’t necessarily come across as religious in nature. Joseph’s universal themes, catchy tunes, and dazzling dance numbers are sure to entertain young and old alike. Joseph is a high-energy, flashy-to-see, exciting-to-hear, fun park ride. Please join us and don’t miss this delightful production, featuring a special guest performer, an ensemble of talented area youth, as well as the Sondheim Center interns playing feature roles.

Check out for current event info.

Thank you again for collaborating with us, and we shall see you at the theater!

See the index for more articles on theater and performing arts.