I was fresh out of the Army in the spring of 1972 when Bob Estrin asked me to design the set for Cabaret which would be Stage 212's fourth production in late summer. Like everyone who leaves the service, I felt a bit lost in those months before I headed to ISU in the fall, so having something fun to concentrate on was welcomed. I got lost in designing the set instead. Back in the upstairs room that was mine through my LP years, sitting at my own desk again, I designed the set by making a model out of painted cardboard and glue. I had seen the original production of Cabaret on Broadway not long after it opened, and was awestruck. I wanted my set to reflect what I had seen in it's mood and movement. I felt like I had finally come home.
Our venue would be Hall High School Auditorium. The first thing I did was take down the stage curtain and all the other curtains and masking that filled the stage to reveal the back wall which was a quilt of various types of dark brick, cinder block and cement patches with years of grunge over it all. By the time I had the walls built on all five wagons, I couldn't wait to start painting. The paint we used was actually quantities of powdered tempera paint which was mixed with water and horse hoof glue which had to be heated to keep it from rubbing off. I brewed up two gallons of deep purple paint and grabbed a brush and one of the gallons and headed toward the first wagon, when I dropped it in the middle of the stage floor covering a huge area. Just then Bob dropped by and was aghast at what he saw. I couldn't be bothered with it when my brush was waiting, and said, "I'll clean it up later.., I need to start painting!" It didn't take him long to find a bucket, sponges and cloths and he was down on his knees in a panic, frantically trying to get it cleaned up. I was determined to get started and went back for the second gallon and made it almost to the wagon when the same thing happened, so now we had matching purple pools on Hall's beautiful maple stage floor. So if there is a purple cast on the stage floor today... I take full credit. I'll never forget his look of disbelief when he saw my handiwork and repeated when I did it again.
This production will always hold a special place in my memory because both of my parents helped with the set. My dad built several of the larger props as well as the black keys for the piano and the candlestick phones on the tables, and my mom made the elaborate fringed table cloths for inside the Cabaret.
I got to know Bob Estrin while I was IVCC's set designer and he wanted me to become part of his dream to establish an area theater group. I enjoyed our many discussions and his enthusiasm about how to fulfill this dream. With my obligations at IVCC and my time in the Army standing in the way, it took four years before I could be actively involved. Bob was one of a core group of young students, mostly Theater, Music and Art majors, and close friends who were mad about theater and were drawn into this dream. A young man of vision and many talents, he directed and was in charge of the first few 212 productions, and was later Theater Director at Freeport High School for many years. Over the decades, that core group went on to other places, many became drama and music teachers who have enjoyed a lifetime of Stagecraft. I think they would be pleased with how this dream that got started in a Youth Center blossomed and continues to grow fifty years and beyond.
I'm still spilling paint... every chance I get.
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