Jarvis stage manager plays major offstage role at Lighthouse

Reichheld is linchpin of giant musical production of Mary Poppins

Those watching Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s upcoming production of Mary Poppins won’t see Heather Reichheld on the stage, but the Jarvis resident plays a central role in bringing the beloved family musical about the practically perfect nanny to life.

As stage manager, Reichheld is the linchpin of the production. She co-ordinates scheduling, communicates with the cast and crew, keeps track of all the blocking and choreography, ensures the sets, costumes and props are on schedule, controls the lights and sound, and prepares a report after each performance to address any issues that arise.

Lighthouse artistic director Derek Ritschel likens the role to an air traffic controller who makes sure the actors, technical staff and backstage crew can do their jobs without interfering with each other.

“The stage manager is the entire support system for those actors and technicians, who rely on the stage manager to be calm, collected and know exactly what to do next,” he said.

Reichheld was already an accomplished community theatre performer and production assistant before she started stage managing the Lighthouse community shows, a tradition at the Port Dover theatre that sees local amateur actors perform in a venue that is usually home to professional shows.

Reichheld says working alongside Ritschel in Lighthouse’s professional environment has taken her skills to a new level.

“I like the whole organizational part of stage management,” Reichheld said. “The director tends to depend more on the stage manager here (at Lighthouse) to do things and get things organized. And then they hand it all over after opening night, and it truly is the stage manager’s show.”

Reichheld’s dedication and precision while working on seven community shows so impressed Ritschel that he brought her on board as an apprentice stage manager for Lighthouse’s summer season, an experience she found invaluable.

“Because of the opportunity I had to work with professional stage managers, it’s given me a lot more confidence in what I’m doing and helped me pass that on to other people,” said Reichheld, who now mentors young stage managers at local community theatres.

“Heather’s knowledge base is massive. Her arc of learning has been huge,” Ritschel said. “I could take Heather into a professional theatre and do a full-scale musical, and none of those professionals would know the difference.”

Mary Poppins sold out its entire springtime run at Lighthouse, prompting the decision to bring the cast of 23 local performers back for five more performances from Nov. 22 to 25.

Reichheld said remounting a giant musical like Mary Poppins is a challenge because everyone has to get back up to performance speed after months away from the show, but she’s confident that this cast and crew can pull it off.

“The people here at Lighthouse, they bring it,” Reichheld said.

“Even if they’ve done a matinee and then they’ve got to do an evening show, and you think, my gosh, they’re probably exhausted. But they give 110 per cent, every performance. And that’s what I love.”

Mary Poppins is at Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover from Nov. 22 to 25. Tickets are $24. Visit lighthousetheatre.com to learn more.

This article was first published in The Sachem and at sachem.ca.