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'Children of Eden' Is Steven Haines' Swan Song

College-Community Summer Theatre Director Retiring after 40 Years

July 12, 2012

Steven Haines poses on the set of

Steven Haines poses on the set of "Children of Eden."

Steven F. Haines recalls directing the College-Community Summer Theatre’s early 1980s production of Jesus Christ Superstar as a milestone in his lifelong career in local theatre.

Superstar turned out the way I saw it in my head,” he said while remembering the strong acting and musical performances, and the memorable set featuring scaffolding and a rolling platform. “That was the first show where I thought, ‘OK, maybe I am a director.’ We deliberately and intentionally decided to break all our own rules. I learned so much about directing from that show.”

Flashbacks from 40 years of directing summer theatre offer a nostalgic and usually pleasant diversion from the often-hectic, daily intensity of producing this summer’s musical, Children of Eden — his final.

It will run July 19, 20 and 21, at 7:30 p.m., and July 22, at 2:30 p.m., at Wilmington College’s Hugh G. Heiland Theatre. Reservations can be made by calling the Theatre Box Office at (937) 382-6661 ext. 267 weekdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

Haines announced his retirement as summer theatre director following the 2012 production.

“I strongly feel it’s time that somebody else get involved from the directorial standpoint,” he said. “I want to see this summer program continue and still be here in another 20 years. It’s time to start transitioning that.”

Haines retired in 2008 after 34-plus years with Wilmington City Schools, the latter of which he served as the high school’s director of speech and theatre. He said there is no heir apparent ready to be announced, but there are qualified persons in the community that could step into the role of summer theatre director.

“We were 21, 22 years old when we started doing this,” he said. “It’s unusual to have twenty-somethings start something like this and stay with it as long as we have.”

Haines and a group of his Wilmington College theatre contemporaries — Becky Heiland, Anne Carr, David Raizk, John Borrowman and Doug Hinckley — founded the summer theatre in 1972.

A native of Wilmington, the first plays Haines ever saw on stage were the local summer theatre’s productions of The Happy Time, Bus Stop and The Matchmaker when he was a seven-year-old in 1958.

“I can tell you what those shows looked like and even exactly where I sat,” he said in stressing their profound affect on him.

(LEFT) Steven Haines directs during a sneak preview of several numbers in June during a WC alumni and friends ice cream social at Cape May Retirement Village.

In those days, Wilmington College faculty members Hugh G. Heiland, Lewis Marcuson and Marty Gilbert headed a vital summer theatre program. Summer seasons featured a blend of Wilmington College and community theatre and, during some years, equity professionals with a mix of college students, but, by 1965 or ’66, that iteration of the summer program had run its course.

After a few “false starts” in the late 1960s, summer theatre returned when Haines and the stalwarts literally willed it to happen in 1972. They produced five plays on a $250 budget that featured “some modest stuff,” a one act by Tennessee Williams and several Harold Pinter review sketches.

“We were young and foolish,” he said. “We asked parents and friends of parents for donations — I remember how excited we would get when someone gave us $50.”

Haines spoke about how they were “extraordinarily nurtured” by the community, and that community support continues to this day.

“We had grown up in this community and we felt like we were doing something important that the community enjoyed. They have been very faithful to us. As we have grown, some have they,” he added. “We had some clunkers early on, but that didn’t stop people from coming to see us.”

After two years of producing shows that didn’t require elaborate sets and properties, they produced an ambitious Hello Dolly in 1974.

“That was one when we thought, ‘Are we ready for this?’ That summer for me was when things really took off. We did real theatre that summer,” he said, noting that Hello Dolly was a major cog in his evolution as a director.

“You learn with every step you take,” he said, adding that many other shows from the last 40 years come to mind as part of that process.

There’s South Pacific, Haines’ favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein show. However, he’s purposely steered clear of their classic musicals like Oklahoma! and The King and I in favor of shows he finds more challenging and interesting to the actors, audience and himself.

“I’ve been directing for 40 years and part of the choice of shows is to keep oneself interested,” he said.

Jason Robert Brown’s musical, Parade, was certainly one of those. Titanic: The Musical “turned into its own event,” he said, and Stephen Sondheim musicals obviously hold a special place in Haines’ heart.

Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, Follies, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Sunday in the Park with George, the whole set of Sondheim shows we’ve done has been very important to me,” he said. “I think they were fine shows.”

Include this year’s Children of Eden among that preferred list too. Haines said the musical was “much loved” when they produced it in 2000 so doing an updated staging of it makes perfect sense as the 40th anniversary show.

“We knew we needed to give the community something they would recognize that was family friendly,” he said, noting the cast of nearly 50 includes a dozen persons new to the summer experience, in addition to the many veterans and summer theatre regulars.

“We’re not doing it the way we did it 12 years ago. It will be different. But that’s the ephemeral nature of theatre — it’s a one of kind experience.”

Whether it’s Hello Dolly in 1974 or Children of Eden this summer, Haines cited the “wonderful performers” as a constant of the past 40 years.

“We’ve had terrific performers from the outset,” he said in praising a community rich with talented actors, musicians and others interested in various aspects of musical theatre.

He added that the evolution of summer theatre also has achieved technical and visual capabilities never fathomed as possible years ago.

The founders of summer theatre can look back upon the last 40 years with a sense of pride for what they started and sustained — and have accomplished.

While most have moved on since that summer of ’72, Haines and his wife, Becky Heiland Haines, have been the mainstays of summer theatre with Raizk also having a summer theatre continuity that has included directing and acting every few years.

One gains an even greater appreciation for what Haines and company have created over the last four decades when considering that live theatre does not include an instruction manual and canned recordings with an accompanying crate of costumes and unfolding, fully assembled sets pulled off trucks that pull up to the stage door.

“I get the biggest kick out of that,” he said. “I still get asked, ‘Where do you buy your sets and costumes?

“We get a book and there are words and music in that book — that’s all. Everything else comes out of our collective, creative imaginations. We think it up!

“But that’s one of the things I love about theatre — to watch ideas and energy turn into something tangible for two hours on stage.”