Peeking behind the curtain at the Schuster Performing Arts Center
It was 30 minutes to show time, and one of the evening’s stars was still missing. For the first time ever this incredible celebrity and her equally famous mentor were going to sit on a stage and share details of their relationship and the importance of reading in their lives. There was a sell-out crowd to benefit the libraries in Wright Dunbar district schools. What if she didn’t show? What could be done? Nobody tells Oprah to get a move on. Not even Maya Angelou.
The Read and Rise Event held at the Schuster Performing Arts Center turned out to be an amazing event, one of the many held at the center since its opening 10 years ago. When Oprah Winfrey finally arrived on that September evening in 2005, the audience learned that she just couldn’t tear herself away from the victims of Hurricane Katrina that she had been visiting earlier that day. Her mentor and co-star for the evening forgave her and so did everyone else. It was a spectacular evening.
Decade of Stories
This is just one of the many behind-the-scenes stories that are a part of the incredible 10-year history of the Schuster. From crazy riders on performance contracts, the well-known singer who required a dressing room draped in white curtains and only white china, to performers with stalkers in need of extra security, the Schuster Performing Arts Center has seen it all.
But what sticks with most employees are the memories they make both for the families attending performances and the families on tour with the shows.
“We are Dayton ambassadors,” says Diane Schoeffler-Warren, head of public relations for the Schuster. “The folks in the shows, from actors and musicians to production crews, travel with their families, even their pets. It’s our job to help them find what they need while they are here.”
To that end the Schuster provides every member of the cast and crew an entire folder of Dayton info, including local doctors and dentists, lists of restaurants and entertainment, salons, and even dog parks.
“Many of the crew members will be back to Dayton with another show. We want them to have a positive experience every time they come,” says Schoeffler-Warren. “We have even arranged play dates with our own kids.”
Schoeffler-Warren shared her own backstage moment when she and her 5-year-old son hosted one of the leads from Les Miserables and his autistic son. It was Christmas time, and the group headed over to the Kettering Tower to take in the annual train display. She recalls the smile on the actor’s face as he listened to his son’s laughter. “We just don’t get to hear it that often,” the actor said.
“That is a memory made for both of us,” says Schoeffler-Warren.
With nearly 2,300 people attending every performance, the Schuster staff truly has seen it all. They have had a near-birth experience, a stroke, even someone dying just outside the main theater.
What sticks with most the staff, though, are the positive events.
The recent run of The Lion King brought all of the might of the Disney empire to Dayton.
“It was their building for the entire run, and they came with a 27-page document of rules and requirements,” says Schoeffler-Warren.
The rules included how many outlets were needed for each dressing room and uniform requirements for the Schuster staff. “But the experience for our staff was incredible.”
For group sales manager, Betty Gould, the experience was impressive and memorable.
“Disney expects the same level of performance from a venue’s staff that it does from its own cast and crew. They were impressed with our ability to deliver.”
But what Gould remembers most was the experience of the patrons. Gould spent the opening parade scene of every performance sitting in an open seat in the orchestra.
“Watching the faces in the crowd was magical. Right then, right there, we were making memories. It is the reason we give up our nights, weekends and holidays, for that moment,” says Gould.
Creating the Future
In its 10-year tenure, the Schuster has hosted hundreds of weddings, engagements and other events.
The most memorable for Schoeffler-Warren happened during a Dayton Philharmonic performance. A staff member had written a piece for the orchestra. He then came on stage and asked his girlfriend to marry him. She said yes.
“When we aren’t having a performance, we are having a wedding,” says Gould. In fact, the staff is currently planning a wedding for a familiar family. All four of the family’s daughters have been married at the Schuster.
The future of the Schuster is being created now. The reputation of the staff, management and of the entire Dayton region stands tall. From the speed and care of load-ins to the feeling of home visiting performers and crew feel during the run of their show, the Schuster remains a very popular venue throughout the industry.
Dayton welcomes the productions and their casts and the impact of that welcome is felt throughout the community. Many downtown restaurants offer discounts throughout performances to both patrons and performers. In fact, several restaurants, Uno’s and Boston Stoker in particular, are known for opening after hours specifically to feed production staff.
“The impact of the Schuster is felt all over Dayton and all over the world,” says Schoeffler-Warren. “We are proud of the reputation we have created in this first 10 years, and we look forward to what the next 10 years will bring.”