In our last story, we caught up with one of the stars of our last production of The Importance of Being Earnest, Chris Heilgeist. This week we caught up with the director of the Season 29 production, long-time member and man of many talents at PM&L, Mark Badtke.

An ad for THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST in the May 25, 1990, edition of the News Sun.

Vaudeville Challenges

Alan Titus in his portrait for Jack from the Season 29 production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.
Richard Burkinshaw in his portrait as Algernon in Season 29's production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.

As many of our scenic designers know, our theatre’s diminutive size presents unique challenges in designing a set. Our stage originally began its life as a small stage within a combination movie theater and vaudeville house. In fact, when we last staged Earnest we hadn’t performed the two later additions to the building we now have. This resulted in a very small stage with very little room backstage to store additional scenic pieces.

Earnest, with a new setting for each act, required three different sets in one show in this confined space. In addition to directing, Mark designed his own set and his solution was to use periaktoi — set pieces that are made by taking three flats, each with a different scene painted on it, which are rotated to create the different scenes.

“Multi-set shows take creativity on our small stage,” Mark said. “So I built six periaktoi to make the walls of the multiple sets.” He also had an interesting idea for the floor, “Earnest was also my one and only effort at a marble floor.”

Season 29's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST as featured in the May 25, 1990, issue of the News Sun.

Finding the Right Cast

As Chris Heilgeist reflected, Aileen Biel helped the cast greatly with dialect coaching given her British expatriate status. Mark also mentioned this along with how lucky they were to find a young but talented high schooler in Kara Smith to play Cecily. “Chris Heilgeist was always the hardest working actress that I’ve ever worked with. She always wanted to stay after rehearsal and discuss character development.” The roles he really enjoyed developing as a director though? You might be surprised!

“What I remember most was working very hard with Stan Livermore (Lane) and Steve Willding (Merriman) as the butlers,” Mark said. “I saw a lot of hidden comedy in those roles.

Season 29's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST as featured in the June 1, 1990, issue of the Lakeland News.

A Timeless Classic in a Timeless Building from Timeless Contributors

Tom Hausman's portrait as Rev. Chasuble in Season 29's production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.
Aileen Biel's portrait as Lady Bracknell in Season 29 s production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.

As we’ve shown you, a lot has changed in the nearly 33 years since we last staged Earnest but one thing that has remained the same has been our home on Main Street.

Because of the generosity of our patrons and supporters, we’ve undertaken not one, but two major additions in the time since. We also acquired the store next door that became Tribute Hall.

None of this would have been possible without the help of our many volunteers over the years. However, we’d be remiss in closing without remembering two very special ones from this cast and two members of our PM&L Hall of Fame, Tom Hausman (Rev. Chasuble) and Aileen Biel (Lady Bracknell), whom we have lost in just the past year.

Aileen spent decades as our business manager taking on countless duties from manning the box office to making sure the bills got paid. She graced our stage in several productions and many more behind it as a stage manager and other roles. Affectionately known as “the grand dame of PM&L” we wouldn’t be where we are today without Aileen’s contributions. A tireless volunteer for as long as she was able, Aileen blessed our company with organization and the quintessential British attitude of “keep calm, and carry on.”

Tom Hausman served multiple terms as President of PM&L and directed many productions. Tom was always proud of his many PM&L awards for acting and directing and each and every one of them found a place in his home where many a PM&L cast party was held (even for shows he wasn’t involved in!). The man many called “the lovable curmudgeon” was both intent on having the largest cast possible while still having the smallest show budget. Tom left an indelible mark on both the organization and directing at PM&L that cannot be replaced.

The loss of Tom and Aileen has reminded us all, we are but temporary stewards of PM&L. Through the collective efforts of countless volunteers across 60 seasons, we have carried on in our mission to bring the arts to the people of Antioch and the surrounding communities. At the end of it all, we hope that audiences today find shows more than a century old such as Earnest as entertaining now as they were 33 years ago because, as always, the show must go on!

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