By Liz Tenney Jarvis.
School drama productions usually rely heavily on students, parents and other volunteers to help with the creation of sets, costumes, make-up, and other key elements. This year, Blue Ridge Middle School will be the first middle school in Loudoun County to perform The Lion King Jr. Under the direction of drama professional Dolly Stevens, the Blue Ridge Middle School theatrical community will all actively participate in bringing the Disney experience to the stage.
Earlier this fall, when the call-backs had concluded and the BRMS students were cast, the parents were asked to attend a “mandatory” meeting which would explain the obligations of the students, the requests for parent participation and an explanation of what producing The Lion King Jr. would entail. During the discussion of costumes and scenery, parent Bill Short quietly mentioned that he had a background in scenic production. It turned out to be quite a background – the eyes of the school drama team grew wider as Short described his extensive experience.
Army Staff Sergeant Short was born in Alaska and was raised in Florida (his father was in the Air Force). Short’s own military career spans from 2002, with a five year break in service in 2005, to the present. However, from a very early age, he was interested in the creative world. “My Kindergarten report card says that ‘Bill is very creative in art’, ” said Short. His parents were not professional artists though Short indicates that his father drew beautiful architectural drawings and it was inspiring to him. When Short began to draw, his parents placed a drafting table in his bedroom. He would then continue to foster that talent, studying at the University of Central Florida where he received a BA with a major in studio drawing and a minor in sculpture.
When Short was working to pay for college, he was “hijacked” during his senior year as he was introduced to the general manager of the Orlando Science Center. “The GM came into the restaurant where I was working as a cook and the waitress said to show him my portfolio.” He immediately offered Short a job. As a local, they would not have to pay for his room and board. The project was massive, “we built a fifty foot cypress swamp.” Short would then build on that experience as he continued to be employed by the entertainment industry. His work can be seen in Busch Gardens, Sea World, Orlando and Baltimore as well as Universal Studios Islands of Adventure and Hard Rock Cafe.
Short’s involvement with the middle school production has been extensive. “It’s been a while since I have had a project this big â€¦ a middle school play – totally unexpected!” When the The Lion King Jr. meetings began, Short hoped he would “get to do something.” His wife initially urged him not to get ahead of himself as “he tends to jump into things.” Â However, as the scope of the Broadway-caliber production became clearer, Short’s wife Lesa said, “they might need you as they are going to go full force with this thing.”
Compared to the large scale work and experience in Short’s past, he says that his true challenge is to get the pieces to fit the kids. Since the students are not in his workshop to be constantly measured or to be worked into molds, it is a challenge to get each element to fit comfortably. The amount of time spent on the production is another consideration as Short has put in at least 200 hours into The Lion King Jr.. A big job at Universal would take years and of course the budget would be in the millions. There would also be an entire crew devoted to what Short is currently sculpting alone. “There would always be a crew on all of the projects I worked on – it would not just be me personally.”
Short’s involvement in BRMS’s drama production is “for my child, the school, the community so there is a big difference from the work I’ve done before.” The satisfaction of a finished professional job is not like the participation in the school’s production as Short says, “that is why I volunteered to do itâ€¦seeing my daughter (Tierney) so excited to be in the play.” Short really wanted to devote that time to her as much of their lives have been centered recently around their other daughter’s serious illness and intensive treatment. Working on The Lion King Jr. has been a joy to Short as he can utilize his creative talents in this focused way.
While there are obvious differences, there are similarities in the sculpting being done for the middle school production. Much like the projects at Universal Studios, Short uses an insulation material called Trymer “It is really what we would use to make everything at Universal as what we would do is sculpt it out, first on a small scale, then lay it down on a grid and make a huge floor piece with the same grid scaled up – the pieces are then welded together, stood up and covered with fiberglass. The Trymer material was picked up by Short, renting a truck, in Lancaster, PA. Universal Studios would buy it in billets. All of the spare foam is being saved by Short so that he can go to the local high school art students and teach them how to work with it – a rare opportunity given the expense of the materials.
Short commends the drama program at Blue Ridge for its professionalism and devotion to creating an amazing production. “I really am just so impressed by Dolly’s vision and her commitment to making it all happen.” Dolly Stevens says, “We always depend on our cast parents to help us behind the scenes. While I know when I cast a show what talent I have amongst my student actors, the parent skills remain largely unknown until we start working on it. Parent and Sculptor, Bill Short, has been a Gift from the Great Beyond. With his contributions, in addition to my “Dream Team” of production parents, many of whom have done 4-5 shows with me now (as their kids have cycled through BRMS), we are taking this show to an even higher level.”
Stevens indicates that those working behind the scenes, in addition to the parent and high school volunteers, are a group of exceptionally talented people. Short has enjoyed working with this group as it reminds him of the skilled artists he has worked with in the past. Stevens mentions that “Krista Winger (Costumes), local artist Anne Stine (Scenic Design), Laura Rahn (Publicity and I.T. magic) and Kathie West (Hair/Make Up Design) are four unbelievably talented women who have lent their substantial experience to BR productions for the past five years. Greg Powell has been our Set Designer and Engineering guru for the past two years –he’s an exceptional leader.” Gretchen Lamb, a parent at BRMS, is the production choreographer. Like Short, she is a fellow parent and has extensive experience in theatrical dance and with Disney Entertainment.
The Military and Entertainment seem to be in opposite ends of the spectrum. However, Short believes that his being in the military, with “the discipline, the deadlines and meeting those requirements,” combined with the entertainment industry’s “make it so” mentality, all factor into his drive to put everything into this production. The community will soon witness the hidden talents of Staff Sergeant Bill Short along with those of everyone working on BRMS’ The Lion King Jr.
Show dates are Friday, Feb. 26 through Sunday, Feb. 28 and Friday, Mar. 4 through Sunday, Mar. 6. For ticket information, visit http://www.loudoun.k12.va.us/Page/168439