Setting the stage for Souza's ‘The Secret Garden'

| 22 Feb 2012 | 01:23

Behind the scenes with the man who creates and lights the sets Highland Mills - In “As you like it, Shakespeare wrote: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women, merely players.” If the above aphorism is at all true, then somewhere in the world, at this very moment, Tony Ravinsky is likely doing set design, construction, lighting design, and/or strutting and fretting for hours on or behind the stage. You see, Ravinsky is one of those “unsung” community theatre heroes who demonstrates, time and again, seemingly boundless energy and endless enthusiasm for all things theatrical. This summer, Ravinsky has been working on at least three community theater shows, with another scheduled to open in the fall. He acted as set designer and construction coordinator for the currently successful (and still running) theater comedy “Play On” at Museum Village; performed the same functions for Neil Simon’s “Rumours” at the Palaia Vineyard in Highland Mills a few weeks ago; and will now design and coordinate the building of sets and scenery for Souza’s “The Secret Garden” in early August, again at Palaia. And for the County Players’ production of “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight,” opening in September, he will “just” do the lighting design. ‘Finding solutions’ “It is a challenge, coordinating and juggling simultaneous productions,” Ravinsky said. “I have had four scripts in my bag for the last two months, taking notes and keeping all my lumber and material receipts and designs separate. “Each space, each theater, each production has its own challenges. So finding a solution to all of these challenges is what keeps me going. It’s just like a big puzzle.” In his “day job,” Ravinsky has been a choral teacher and theater coach for the last seven years at the Cornwall High School. He received his bachelor of music degree in music education from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam in 2003, and achieved a masters of music from UCONN in 2007. In terms of his theater training, Ravinsky admits to being basically self-taught. “I don’t have any formal training, just many years of experience, seeing what works and what doesn’t,” Ravinsky said. “I guess I was bitten by the theater bug in my middle school/high school years. In high school, in addition to being in the productions, I also helped build several shows, and then in college, I got the opportunity to build and design several operas.” Ravinsky became involved with Souza back in 2008 when the scholarship fund-raising group produced “Godspell,” its first show at the Palaia Winery. “Souza came to vineyard owner Jan Palaggi, hoping to use the outdoor stage at the winery, and Jan mentioned to me that they could use a designer,” Ravinsky recalled. “I met with director Maureen Burt, we developed a great working relationship, and the rest is history, three years and almost three shows later.” Perhaps as a choral teacher, Ravinsky would not be shy about singing the praises of other unsung theater folks - such as Maureen Burt, Monroe-Woodbury Middle School teacher, who will direct “The Secret Garden;” M-W music teacher Steven Wing, musical and choral director; Michele George, who will conduct the orchestra; Ronnee MacDonald, Souza Treasurer and all-around scholarship coordinator; vineyard owner Jan Palaggi, the show’s producer, who handles all logistics at the site; and past Souza scholars Sarah Fields, the director’s assistant; and musician Stephen Gorgone, who enlists other players for the orchestra. But even with such a support staff, Ravinksy can’t possibly put all these theatrical “puzzles” together all by himself. Each year, he is able to round up a growing group of “usual suspects,” adult and student volunteers who help him to realize his designs. He is particularly grateful to his reliable young crew of helpers from Cornwall High. “The nice thing during the summer is that I can get my former and current students to come out and help me build and paint at the winery. Without them, I would not be able to create all of my designs.” ‘Getting back to my roots’ Ravinsky has also appeared on stage. “In high school and in college, I acted in most of the productions. Recently I went back to the stage and was in Creative Theater’s productions of ‘Pippin,’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate.’ For me its getting back to my roots, and I would love to do it again when the right opportunity presents itself.” Ravinsky also is currently on the New York State Theater Educators Board of Directors, and is currently in charge of the state’s Student Conference, set to take place in January, along with being the vice president of Orange County Music Educators. In terms of his final thoughts, Ravinsky observed: “To be honest I am honored to be interviewed for this article, and I do truly love working with all these production teams and technical crews. It certainly keeps my summer ‘entertaining.’” Each space, each theater, each production has its own challenges. So finding a solution to all of these challenges is what keeps me going. It’s just like a big puzzle.” Tony Ravinsky If you go Souza Scholarship Foundation’s production of “The Secret Garden” is scheduled for four performances at Palaia Vineyard’s outdoor stage on Route 32 in Highland Mills on: Thursday, Aug. 5; Friday, Aug. 6; Saturday, Aug.7; and Sunday, Aug. 8, at 7:30 p.m. each evening. Tickets are $10 for adults, children and seniors. For more information about Souza’s The Secret Garden performances and tickets, call 845-782-0453.