‘Final act’ plays out for long-time David Douglas High Theater manager

He didn’t want this story published until after he’d retired this summer. Now, take a look at some of the amazing shows that Mark Taylor helped students produce, during his career …

-1 After the final performance of the Theater Department’s 2013 comedy, THE FOREIGNER, Horner Performing Arts Center Technical Director Mark Taylor is called to the stage by cast and crew to honor his work.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
On closing night of the David Douglas High School (DDHS) Drama Department 2013 spring comedy, THE FOREIGNER, Horner Performing Arts Center Technical Director Mark Taylor knew he’d worked on his last show at the school.

What he didn’t know, is that he’d be pushed onstage by the cast and crew after the final bows were taken, to accept what turned into a standing ovation, honoring his years of teaching and designing fabulous sets during his career at the school.

The signs held up the cast members say it all – not only for this cast and crew, but for all of the students who Mark Taylor helped learn technical stagecraft during his 20+ year tenure at DDHS.

As the end of the school year neared, Taylor sat down in his office at the DDHS Theater to speak with East Portland News about his lifetime career, blending show business and education.

“I’ve really enjoyed co-teaching Beginning Stagecraft classes with Judy LaCoq, and supervising the Advanced Technical Services (ATS) class,” Taylor said. “Every year, about 50 students take some level of stagecraft classes.

“We help students develop their skills in lighting control, lighting design, sound control, sound design – and special crew positions like Chief Flyman – [who handles the] rigging that is used to ‘fly’ scenery and sets.”

Mark Taylor dismantles a set, with the help of sophomore Stagecraft student Brandon Paddock.

“This class for me is one of the greatest things in the school here,” said DDHS sophomore Brandon Paddock about the specialized coursework. “It’s fun and creative. You get to learn crafts, and work with stuff you don’t get to work with on a daily basis. While you’re in class, most people have fun at it every day.”

Audiences are astonished by professional sets, like this two-story “hunting lodge” from the 2005 production of 7 Keys to Baldpate. East Portland News file photo

This 2007 production of Wizard of Oz featured realistic sets – including evil, flying monkeys. East Portland News file photo

A lifetime in theater
“It started before I was in junior high school,” Taylor recalled. “I was building Soap Box Derby racers, tree houses – anything with wood and nails – in this neighborhood, here in the mid-County area.

“The parents of Floyd Light Middle School drama teacher, Edith Martin, lived next door to us. She got me involved in drama class. I ‘built’ my first show as a seventh grader: Erasmus with Freckles. I built Wizard of Oz is an eighth grader, and then came to the high school. The first show I built here was Skin of Our Teeth.

By “building a show”, Taylor said, he means working with a stage and set designer’s idea, and physically executing that design – in short, building the set pieces.

This realistic house set from the 2007 comedy See How They Run looks rich and opulent. East Portland News file photo

Before a performance of the 2008 blockbuster musical Bye Bye Birdie, Mark Taylor briefs his student technical stage crew. East Portland News file photo

A two-story set, lit with highly saturated colors, from Bye Bye Birdie, was a real standout. East Portland News file photo

“After building shows through my years as a DDHS student,” Taylor continued, “I received a scholarship from the University of Portland for Theater Design. I spent a year there, and used my scholarship. I met people in theater, and began working semi-professionally. Then, the Jefferson High drama teacher, Wanda Nichols, brought me in as a technical director and designer.”

Taylor subsequently switched schools, coming back to DDHS as theater technical director in 1980. He continued his higher education at Portland State University, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Technical Theater Design in 1985.

“It took me a while, because I was working here full time while I was getting my degree. I was looking forward to this theater being built here at the school. With the help of a couple of alumni, and we put on the first show together in the new theater, The Music Man.”

Another spectacular set design is Mark Taylor’s creation for the 2009 production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. East Portland News file photo

Before summer break – and days before he retires from DDHS – Mark Taylor works at his well-used drafting board, designing the staging for the school’s 2013 fall musical, Seussical. East Portland News file photo

Bringing a collaborative creative vision to life
A designer doesn’t just sketch out his own ideas for a stage set, Taylor explained.

“The director of the show will share his or her vision for what the show might look like. Then, figure out how to make their ideas fit into our venue. Then we have ‘production meetings’ to discuss the designs, as they come along.

“For example,” Taylor continued, “we’ve already had three production meetings to cover drawings for the show Michael Givler is directing this fall – Seussical, a musical based on the books of Dr. Seuss, that debuted on Broadway in 2000.

Laurie and Curley speculate about their future – on the unique, emotionally-evocative set of their 2010 production of Oklahoma. East Portland News file photo

Like many of his designs, Taylor’s fanciful-but-rustic set pieces for Oklahoma convert and transform the stage to a hillside, a cabin, or a country store. East Portland News file photo

As we reminisced with Taylor about many of the shows East Portland News has covered over the years, the DDHS 2010 production of Oklahoma came up.

“This set was more creative on my end,” acknowledged Taylor. “Artistically, it was probably one of my very favorite shows. My designs tend to be geometric and symmetrical. Doing Oklahoma I breached my traditional approach, and came up with the rolling hills, the haystacks, the cabins.”

In this unretouched photo from the DDHS 2006 production of Peter Pan, cast members really do fly off to Neverland. East Portland News file photo

Taylor went on, “Peter Pan was another show that I really enjoyed, because of the complexity.  We spent a lot of time and production meetings before we decided whether or not we could actually do that show.

“In the end, we created our own ‘Foy Rig’ – the devices and rigging used to make actors fly in the air – for Peter Pan. We engineered a whole new flying system. It was quite a task, but, the theater owns it outright and has rented it to other productions.”

The set and lighting of Fiddler on the Roof, presented in 2011, enhanced the powerful storyline of the musical. East Portland News file photo

Student-built shows
Typically, 90% of the shows at the Horner Auditorium are constructed, painted, and detailed up by the students, under Taylor’s supervision.

“In the end, this job is more than being a good carpenter, it’s about being good at teaching students how to be carpenters. Some shows require technical skills above their skill sets – so I’ll do things like welding over intricate construction work.”

This detailed and rustic set, built in the small “black box” theater for the 2011 presentation of The Crucible, gave the actors a realistic setting in which to reenact the Salem Witch Trials. East Portland News file photo

Imparting a love of theater
By far, the vast number of this ATS students – Taylor estimates more than 2,000 kids have taken his classes – don’t go into show business. “But, they learn transferable skills that will benefit them throughout their lives. I get a kick out of hearing how they use what they’ve learned – fixing up their houses, for example.”

But some do go into the profession. A graduate from the mid 1980’s, he said, works the “fly rail” at Portland’s Keller Auditorium. “Another former student works for entertainment providers that do staging for concert venues, and large displays. One of our ladies is working as a union stage hand in Seattle.”

This production number from the fall of 2012 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was an excellent example of quality stagecraft. That’s the orchestra, up on the second level. East Portland News file photo

Taylor said he has no regrets about his decision to be a high school theater manager and stagecraft teacher, instead of working in professional theater.

“Out in the professional arena, there’s a lot of work. But no one is guaranteed employment. You have a job only as long as the show is being constructed – then you’re off looking for your ‘next job’.”

As in all of their productions, behind the scenes, it is the students who run the lights, sound, and staging equipment – such as here, during the spring 2013 comedy, The Foreigner. East Portland News file photo

“The best part of this job has been working with the kids,” Taylor observed. “I like seeing that ‘aha’ moment when they say ‘I can do that! I thought it, and now I’ve built it’. It’s rewarding to seeing them transition from being a student just learning craft work, to them becoming skilled at stagecraft.”

Beyond missing working with students, Taylor said he’ll miss opening nights. “There’s something about when the curtain first comes up on a show, with the first spotlight comes on – even after all these years, I still get tingles up and down my spine.”

In a true theatrical moment, after he walked out of the theater building for the last time, Taylor hopped on his Harley-Davidson 2007 Ultra Classic and rode off into the sunset.

Mark Taylor, take a bow!

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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