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Director of touring ‘Phantom of the Opera’ offers insights in Appleton

High School Theater

Center Stage High School Musical Theatre Program of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – There are musicals, and there are MUSICALS.

The MUSICAL visiting Fox Cities Performing Arts Center arrived in 20 truckloads, brought a company of 64, took three 16-hour days to install and includes a dress weighing 80 pounds and a chandelier weighing 2,000 pounds.

This MUSICAL – “The Phantom of the Opera” – has been running for more than 30 years on Broadway and in London.

“It is an honor to protect such a great piece,” Max Quinlan, resident director of the touring production, told especially interested students during a workshop Friday afternoon.

The students are from 23 schools participating in the Center Stage High School Music Theatre Program. Part of the elaborate program is access to various elements of shows behind the scenes.

Related: Follow all Center Stage Program stories here

“There’s not common knowledge of what goes into this show,” said Leland Bartikoski, a junior at Green Bay Preble High School.

As did others, he liked “getting a glimpse into the process.”

Pouring on the information was Quinlan in four spaces in the center – a secondary theater, a lobby walkway, the main hall and back to the secondary theater.

Director Max Quinlan speaks to students in Kimberly Clark Theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. (Warren Gerds)

Quinlan said his widely encompassing job was “part manager, part director and part therapist.”

A prime question from a student was about his No. 1 piece of advice.

“Be kind,” Quinlan said.

Everybody in a show the scale of “The Phantom of the Opera” has to rely on one another, he said.

Collaboration and communication are part of that.

“We become a team together in order to bring this to an audience,” Quinlan said.

Answering a student, he said a favorite part of his job is bringing new cast members into a production to help them feel they are “individually contributing to what this show is.”

Related: Read more from Warren Gerds/Critic at Large here

Answering another student about pursuing a degree in theater, Quinlan said, “Theater is valuable outside of being in theater (as a career).” Theater helps anyone understand “human beings and human behavior,” he said.

On the lobby walkway, students heard Quinlan pour out his soul about his feelings for theater, acting and directing. Along with offering many technical details about the workings of the production, Quinlan offer to the students lessons in life.

Quinlan speaks to students in the a PAC lobby hallway. (Warren Gerds)

He told of coming from performing family in the Chicago and developing through acting and studies and experience. A key meeting was with Cameron Mackintosh, producer of this reshaped production of “The Phantom of the Opera” and shaper of much about theater in his home country, England, and the United States.

“I was liked, and that was it,” Quinlan said.

He often returned to the theme.

“Theater is all about relationships,” he said.

And, what is needed to put on a show of this scale is “respecting everybody.”

Quinlan also offered a tip on directing. Every player brings his or her own self to a role, an individual quality, and he or she should be given that space. “It’s not like, ‘This is the way it’s done’,” he said.

A highlight of the workshop was Quinlan telling the ins and outs of the specially built chandelier. That included his descriptions as the chandelier was being checked and prepared for the evening show. In the performance, the chandelier sparks and puffs flames and smoke, aside from – eek! – falling.

“It is unbelievably safe,” Quinlan said.

Quinlan describes costumes used in “The Phantom of the Opera.” (Warren Gerds)

Students came from both onstage and backstage experience in their school productions. Most I spoke with from Fond du Lac, Mishicot, Pulaski, Kaukauna and Green Bay Preble said they hoped to come away with a broader knowledge of what theater takes, from a high-level pro.

One student boiled down his expectations to simply this: “Enjoy.” Anywhere Quinlan held forth, questions flowed from students.

Only one stumped him. He didn’t know how many lights are used in “The Phantom of the Opera.”

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