Cheryl Napier has been at her sewing station for several weeks as the pieces of her life slowly come back together. While a crew has been busy recreating her home on MacHost Road in Zachary, she has been recreating the bygone era that is the setting of the Harper Lee novel and play “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
An ambitious and technically overachieving “Mockingbird” hits the Zachary High stage his week with the support and generosity of community patrons who designed the lighting, built the outer shell of a house and front porch, hung enough greenery to support the concept of a tire swing and built a shrub-laced picket fence to border all of this time travel on one stage.
Napier has been a seamstress for decades and worked in costuming since 1981, but the historic flooding in August threw a massive wrench into the pattern and flow of her life. She cut back many of her projects and jobs, but with the help of her sister Catherine Cook and sewing partner Bernadette Lodes, continued outfitting the Zachary High theater department.
“I needed the distractions,” Napier confessed.
An extreme love for this particular book and play has been added motivation for Napier. “Oh, I just love 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' and that’s just how we were raised,” she said referencing the respect and trust her own father had for black friends of the family.
She is greatly impressed with how well lead Joseph Howard looks completely suited as Atticus Finch. “He looks exactly like a young Gregory Peck,” she said while watching scenes being practiced over the recent spring break.
Like vintage clothing, lights and props are important to selling the scenes and planting the right experience in the audience. Technical director Katherine Magana was surprised and encouraged by the Zachary alumni and business supporters who threw the needed support to the production.
“So many people came together to make this happen, and that’s something that people don’t generally realize,” Magana said. “The students have worked really hard; we have a class that helped build stuff, they helped us put the fence together and they are learning their skills. There’s a great sense of pride that comes with knowing that you put your hands on it.”
Magana has her hand in a lot of the technical aspects of the play’s background, but it was a big job and the crew got lots of help.
“I was able to do some design on this show, which was nice,” she said. “The job of the technical director is to try your best to get with the director and see what their vision for the show is. So trying to piece together the little puzzle pieces to get that full vision figured out and figure out a way to communicate that to the people who are doing the work.”
The vision and expertise for the lighting design came from Zachary High alumni Jeremy McDaniel. After leaving Zachary High, McDaniel studied lighting and theater design at Louisiana Tech and was involved in a great deal of school, community and regional productions. He is a state budget management analyst, but lends his expertise to stage productions and is a frequent contributor to Zachary High theater.
Magana said lighting, set design and all technical aspects come from a meeting of the minds and collaborating with the director to decide “what are you trying to accomplish?”
“In a show like this, you get a lot of wiggle room because it’s a memory play,” Magana said. “So it doesn’t have to be very specific. You want to be able to see the actors' faces; what time of day is it and what is the mood of the situation and how that can be reinforced that with lights?”
The setting is needed to create an atmosphere and show a different time in history. Magana recalls some angst about building an elaborate set so close to the deconstruction of the set used in the previous play, “The Music Man.” As fate would have it, cast member Blake Swarner’s father offered to help with construction. Joey Swarner, owner of HCB Buildings, had a crew build the Finch house for the production. “We got really lucky, and he volunteered his time to help us,” Magana said.
The set is green with life and mimics a tree-lined Southern neighborhood with a big, rustic tire swing hanging from an oak in the Finch’s front yard. Russ Doyle, father of Sydney Doyle, a drama student not in the current production provided the greenery that completes the outside scenes. Dolyle owns Icon Green Sets, LLC, a company that provides greenery for the motion picture industry, Mardi Gras events and debutante balls.
“This is a really technically-heavy show as it turns out,” Magana said.
Setting behind the light and control boards, Magana is surrounded by lights, sounds and the noise of an empty, dark stage that is coming to life in her mind and technical design. “I just really wanted to see these light,” she mumbled like she’s working a puzzle. “We have some conflicts, but they go resolved. That one’s my favorite ... ooh, the tree shadow.”
“A part of what I love about theater ever since I was a kid was illustrated in the first show I saw, 'A Christmas Carol.' It felt like magic. The cool thing about being on the technical stuff is that you are the magician — you make all that magic.”
When "Mockingbird" hits the stage, the audience will see and hear actors, but they will feel emotions and have impressions left by Napier, McDaniel, Swarner and Doyle. “There’s so much to it than just the actors on the stage and that’s the beauty of the technical production,” Magana said.
“You get this concept and that’s your little seed,” she said. “You plant your little seed and all of these people have to come together and take care of that seed so it can grow into this thing that will be on stage for three days. No day is going to be the same. It’s so real and natural — it’s never going to be the same show again.”
The show will be presented at 7 p.m. April 20-22 at the ZHS Visual and Performing Arts Center, 4100 Bronco Lane. Tickets are available at zhsdrama.ticketleap.com.