Why lyrics from Hello Dolly are going through my head instead of those from Willy Wonka, the show that Saline Area Players is currently doing, I’m not sure, but they fit. “Amazing woman…” “It takes a woman, a husky woman…” (never mind where the song goes after that). I’m talking about one of the behind-the-scenes unsung heroes of SAP, Debra Warila.
I first met Deb when she was a nun. Well, she wasn’t ACTUALLY a nun, she played one in The Sound of Music. When we were asked to come up with background jobs for our characters, I found out that Deb had 5 boys (and I thought one was hard to raise), so she chose the role of laundress because it was something she really knew how to do well. Deb did fine on stage, singing a capella with the other nuns, and later playing a ballroom guest in the Von Trapp home. But, as the rehearsals got underway, she discovered that she could get to help build the set. Now, when we say “build the set,” most people develop convenient hearing loss, but not Deb, she was ecstatic. She took to set building like a fish takes to water. I remember one person who didn’t know her asking who she was. I guess she stood out. Some might think that is because she’s a woman, but really the reason is that she has so much energy that she ran circles around all the other set builders. Also, Deb asked if she could help with stage crew during that show. Uh, yeah….! So, I think she may have had some of the most costume changes in that show going from a nun to her ballroom gown with make-up (not tops in her comfort zone) to her black stage crew outfit, back to being a nun (without the make-up)….oh,while moving sets in between and helping with at least two costume changes for other cast members.
Jump ahead 6 months and then a year, and Deb was taking on set building for our little barn show, Jack and the Beantin, including the construction of an 8 ft tall can of beans, and then set building/stage managing/lights/co-producer/whatever for the Carol Burnett Show. She even made a cameo appearance as a rapper during one of the commercials. She has so much energy in her “free time” and eats this stuff up. I think I neglected to mention that Deb also was the main costumer for Carol Burnett and sewed many costumes for The Sound of Music too.
Now, we’re doing Willy Wonka and she is the prime set builder. One of the seasoned set builders who is working on the show too said to me “She knows what she’s doing!” Yes, she does. Another said “she’s very creative!” Another quote: “she has everything detail figured out in her head.” She is able to find jobs for everyone who shows up to build and there have been nights with 3-5 projects going on at the same time. Before The Sound of Music, she had never done this before, so half the time she is learning as she goes. And sometimes, she is designing and re-designing sets as she goes along, making them better and more functional for the cast and crew.
On some nights she also supervises painting when the paint chair is busy. She’s also learning vocabulary… I remember the night she looked up the spelling for louon (or lauan) – (with many pronunciations). Learning the words related to the stage will be fodder for another blogpost. (But, I digress).
What I like the best about this story is the way that community theater provides people an opportunity to use their latent talents in a very meaningful way. I take some credit for inviting Deb to be on the board of the group, but even had I not done that, I think that she would have asked, yes ASKED, to help with set building once she got a flavor of it. And, now that she’s doing it, there is no question who is in charge! I still marvel at how she manages to raise 5 sons and take this on, not to mention keeping her house in good order while trying to sell it. (Although she tells me that her housekeeping sometimes goes lower on the priority list… whose doesn’t?) We must thank her husband too, for keeping the home fires burning while she’s at set building, but he knows, as is clear to the rest of us, that she blossoms doing this kind of work and it keeps her happy! Thanks, Deb!