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Radio City's Highest Stepper
Standing guard with expert coordination
by Karen Duncan
The "Christmas Spectacular" show at Radio City Music Hall includes dramatic theatrical lighting effects, breathtaking imagery, flying characters, 80 Rockettes, dozens of cast members, hundreds of costumes, a full orchestra, a crew of 95 and a host of live animals. And they all fall under the responsibility of Maplewoodian Kathy Hoovler, the show’s stage manager.
In every theatrical production, a single indispensable person is responsible for ensuring that scenery, lighting, actors, directors and sound artists are in sync. For 13 years Hoovler has been at the helm of this monumental production, which runs for 219 performances in just eight weeks. Intricately involved in nearly every aspect of the show, Hoovler’s attention to detail and ability to multi-task, along with outstanding managerial skills, makes her the perfect person for this job.
This Christmas show is a highly precise, well-coordinated event. "There are two full casts that revolve," Hoovler explains. Her schedule builds throughout the year: Starting in March, after two well-deserved months’ rest, she begins meeting with the producers and director to map out details of the next production, for which auditions begin in April, with rehearsals starting in summer. The curtain goes up in early November, and performances continue through the end of December. "I take a few days around then to just decompress," Hoovler admits. "Then I need to see that everything is packed and warehoused for the next season."
"Perhaps the ideal stage managers not only need to be calm and meticulous professionals who know their craft, but masochists who feel pride in rising above impossible odds."
– Peter Hall, British director.
Last year, for its 75th anniversary, the show "changed dramatically," Hoovler says. "That will remain similar for a few years." One number, however, remains a perennial favorite: the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. At the end of several lockstep marches, the uniformed Rockettes line up facing a cannon; when it fires, they topple backward like dominoes. "Of all the numbers, it’s the most precise," Hoovler says. "The fall is very difficult, and it’s rehearsed quite a bit because of the risk of injuries. They literally fall on top of each other."
Growing up in the Midwest, Hoovler studied premed at Indiana University. "I had, and have, no aspirations for being on the stage," she confesses. But a chance opportunity to work the lights for a school production showed her true calling, and she went on to receive a graduate degree from Butler University: a masters in stage management. She worked on the famed Fantastics production, and then at the Roundabout Theater for a dozen years. That’s when she was hired by Radio City.
At this time of year Hoovler is clocking 96 hours a week. Her penchant for preparing for the inevitable "what ifs" helps insure that any problem can be dealt with efficiently and effectively. "I have assistants," she explains, "so I can take a day a week off, and I’ve trained excellent people. But generally in November and December, I live at Radio City."
While most families spend Thanksgiving around a familiar dining table, Hoovler, her husband, Keith, and her two children, Keri and Jacob, join the entire Radio City cast and crew for an onstage feast. "Everyone involved in this production become a stage family," she explains. "It’s tradition for my kids. I think they’d be disappointed if they were not eating turkey with a Rockette."
A 17-year resident of Maplewood, Hoovler enjoys the proximity to Manhattan but mostly the culture of living in town. While stage managing the Christmas Spectacular is her primary position, Hoovler is often at the helm of other large Radio City events such as the National Football League’s Annual Draft – a circus all its own. Surprisingly, she admits that "I’m not much of a football fan." Nevertheless, the Eagles franchise sent her son what she describes as "an incredible box of memorabilia after I helped them through a tricky situation." She was even involved when Pope Benedict XVI was in New York last April. "I ‘stage managed’ his arrival and departure at a JFK hangar," she explained. "I say stage manage for want of a better word. It was an interesting job."
Hoovler shared a precious story of her son from a few years back, when he was a kindergartener having a heated discussion on the playground concerning the existence of Santa. "Dudes," he said with purpose, "he works with my mom."
For millions of families, the holiday season is not complete without seeing this beloved classic production and experiencing the exciting and festive energy that the Rockettes bring to the stage. Luckily for everyone Kathy Hoovler is in the wings. "
Karen Duncan and her husband thoroughly enjoyed last years’ 75th Anniversary Christmas Spectacular on Christmas Day. A big time fan of football she is hoping to score tickets to the NFL draft next year, (hint, Kathy).
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