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From Behind the Barn
News from the Sedona Arts Center

by Rod Abbott

The weekend of June 3 marked the ending of the musical STIFFS, but even more, it was the last production and final performance of the performing arts arm of the Sedona Arts Center’s Charles Raison Theatre.

The company writing, producing, performing: Michael Gilbert, Theresia Hawkins, John Reynolds, Dev Ross, Chris Vaglio, and Debbie Winslow charmed the final audience and received a standing ovation. There followed a “Remember When Party” in the theatre, attended by 60 to 70 avid theatre supporters. Bobbi Leahy and John Wade from the Performing Arts Committee organized the affair with tasty hors d’oeuvres and wine just outside the theatre. Following the grazing, the crowd gathered in the Charles Raison Theatre to reminisce with Wade as the Emcee.

Even before the program, one could pick up on many stories of the Art Barn and its past. Bob Fleisig and Les Heyborne reflected on the many sets for the productions that they had accomplished as well as the work they did with the “grunts” as they were benevolently called, while building the theatre itself.

First on the program was Winslow, who is not only the Administrative Director of the Arts Center but also has performed in many of the shows on stage in the Charles Raison Theatre over the years. She recalled that the first production in the newly renovated theatre (named for her mentor, the late Charles Raison) was Love Letters. Winslow called attention to a plaque near the door to the theatre with all of the names of the many volunteers who had virtually remodeled the theatre into the present day facility.

Winslow recalled for the audience many of the shows and incited the audience to remember many humorous and touching incidents. She pointed to the seat in the third row of the raised portion of the seating, where Raison used to sit. Isabel Joynt occupied the seat in the audience and was brought to the podium by Wade, who reminded the crowd of the tremendous contribution both Joynt and her husband, John, had made over the years to the Center. She recalled that it was in 1969 and 1970 that her husband had fire-proofed the exhibition hall and small stage therein. He had a construction company and made significant contributions to remodeling the barn and constructing a theatre. She recalled the year 1971 and a Mardi Gras night that cost $5 to enter.

Dick Levy could not attend since he was visiting his son in Fargo, ND, and was in attendance at his granddaughter’s graduation; however a tape he had prepared and left with Wade was played for the event. Levy   reminisced, and to the amusement of the audience, Levy recalled some of his famous bloopers.

Noel Schwartz recalled for all how he had come to Sedona and been hired for the choreography of a play from which all the dancing numbers had been removed. Schwartz had a storied career with the Center and the theatre. In the middle of one of his remembrances he was interrupted by Dean Spotts and the two of them broke out in a dance number to which they both sang and danced. It was a great number and recalled the fun they had had at the theatre in many productions.

Two plaques were given for many years of contribution to Dick Levy and to Gordon Yates, who was in Colorado and could not attend. Bob Blaustone received the plaque for him. Blaustone was interrupted by a presentation of a stool so that he could stand up above the podium.

Many other significant contributors reflected on the years of productions and wonderful meaningful relationships that had developed through the performing arts arm of the Art Center. In no other form of the Arts is there such a bonding with people within the production of finished product as develops in the performing arts. Those involved in the production and then in the deliverance of the final product over time develop a closeness and camaraderie that is unique in the art world.

The work - from sets production to lighting to sound, costuming, writing, choreography, acting, directing and the many other jobs necessary for the final product form relationships that are close and shared experiences that become impossible to replace. The house in which all this takes place as the final product is like the artists studio and contains many ghosts of past performances. It is with a seen and unseen tear that those memories fade as the theatre dies.

For one last time, as each took the stage and the lights brightened, the memories flowed through all attending and each held hands with yesterday while the joy and sorrow of those years played upon the senses. They all vowed that the theatre will rise again in Sedona.

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