Sadly, there will no encore

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Other than sharing the same birthday and going to the same church, Steven and I had little in common. It was almost as if Steven was born to teach, sing and entertain. I am one of those “no rhythm” people who often clap on the wrong beat. I love music, but the whole concept of harmony eludes me.

When the congregation at church is singing a hymn and someone nearby starts singing a harmony line, I stop in absolute amazement. Listening to harmony is like listening to magic. If I ever tried to sing harmony, the ghosts of Bach, Beethoven and John Lennon would come back and flog me.

Steven Haines was the longtime music director at the Wilmington United Methodist Church. Our church was absolutely blessed to have him direct the music and influence the worship at our church. Every Sunday, Steven made magic happen. He was loved by every member of our church. He was adored by the choir.

I first met Steven and Becky Haines in the early 1980s. At that time, I was a single Dad raising two young boys. Steven had issued a casting call for youngsters to audition for the Wilmington College-Community Summer Theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

In a delightful move, Steven decided to change the Emerald City from a colorful, magical city filled with munchkins, to a tropical paradise filled with young people in colorful Hawaiian shirts and straw hats.

My son Danny wanted to be a munchkin. He would have given anything to be a munchkin. So, off we went to Wilmington College. I sat in the theater with my son Josh as Steven auditioned dozens of youngsters.

After about 30 minutes, Josh decided he wanted to try out. Steven, always willing to listen to another young actor, welcomed Josh to the stage. As you might imagine, when casting was complete and the names of the munchkins were announced, Danny did not quite make the cut, but Josh became one of the Lollipop Kids.

Danny and I went to all the rehearsals and sat quietly as the show was developed. Watching Steven and a stage full of actors transform an empty stage into the Land of Oz was inspiring, but after several nights of watching Dorothy and Toto follow the yellow-brick road, the evenings did get a little long.

Becky, as usual, was the stage manager. One evening, as she marched from the back of the theater to the stage to make one of a million adjustments to help perfect the play, I stopped her and said, “Becky, with Josh rehearsing every evening, Danny and I will be sitting here doing nothing. If you need any help with anything, let me know.” A short time later, as she walked up the sloping aisle, she knelt and said that they were using more set-pieces on this play than they had ever used in the past. She asked if we could help with the fly-crew.

I had no idea what a fly-crew was, but I said, “If Danny and I can both help out, we would love to.” I think I saw a smile creep into Becky’s eyes as she said, “That would be great.”

The fly-loft is the work area above and to the side of the stage, completely out of view from the audience, where ropes, block and tackle and counterweights are used to quickly and quietly drop large set pieces and backdrops down onto the stage. Thankfully, there was a college student up there with us. He knew what he was doing and within a few days, we were flying like a well-oiled machine.

It was fun to be part of the crew, but it was an amazing privilege to watch Steven Haines work his theatrical magic. In his head was a vision of what the productions would be. Steven knew before anyone else what the mystical, magical City of Oz would look like. He knew how the tropically dressed munchkins would appear to the audience. He knew; somehow, he just knew as he directed Dorothy, the Wicked Witch, the Scarecrow, Tinman, Cowardly Lion, and the Wizard that the magic would blend into a beauty musical.

The true magic of that production was watching from above as Steven transformed the stage into the magical City of Oz. Just as he had imagined it, the play was a great success. Josh and Danny were both delighted that their names appeared in the program.

There is a theatrical legacy in this community that goes back to Steven’s father-in-law, Hugh Heiland. Hugh served as director of the college theater for decades. Hugh’s daughter, Becky, has theater coursing through her veins.

I can recall past productions that involved the entire family. That family has grown throughout the decades. Steven continued Hugh’s tradition of embracing everyone who loved the theater.

We will continue to miss Steven. Truth is, that Steven and his love for music and theatre are so imbedded in our souls that he will continue to inspire and direct us. His voice will always be heard.

Our shouts for an “Encore!” may go unanswered, but his spirit will be a blessing to us … forever.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist