When the late Jackie Hartmann hired Linda Evans in 1993 to become the manager of the Princeton High School Performing Arts Center, she hired, in Evans’ words, a guard dog.
“I think of myself as a guard dog,” Evans said last week as she explained how she has tried to protect the property at the PAC with zealotry, including the sets that await the start of the performances.
Evans said this while talking about her impending retirement after two decades on the job as the PAC manager. Besides protecting the facilities from damage, her duties have included making sure the lighting and sound are ready and programmed, running the light and sound during events, and making sure the stage and seating had been set up as required. The PAC’s seating maximum is 505 under the state fire marshal rules, with 450 permanent seats and allowance to add 55 folding chairs for temporary seating.
Evans calls the PAC her “baby” and explained why she feels it is important to make sure all the technical parts are functioning properly at the facility.
If the lighting or sound isn’t working, or something goes wrong with the set or stage during a performance, it could ruin the one chance the performer may have prepared for and dreamed about in their life “to be in the spotlight,” Evans explained.
She said that the lighting and sound are not always perfect in the theater world, but then there are those mishaps that are extraordinary. The major malfunction she found most disturbing at the PAC and that “traumatizes me to this day” and “took 10 years off the end of my life,” she said, happened during the dedication of the PAC in 1994.
Then Superintendent Tom Kleppe was on the PAC stage directing the demonstration of all of the PAC’s capabilities for the crowd.
Kleppe at one point called for Evans to lower the PAC’s 20-by-24-foot projection screen to show how that worked. When she pressed the button to do so, the whole screen released from the ceiling and fell to the stage “with such a crash I thought I had killed him,” Evans said. She figured the screen missed hitting Kleppe by 4 to 6 inches.
The other calamity with PAC tech equipment that Evans remembers was about 10 years ago during the Miss Princeton coronation. The candidates were lined up on stage, with two sets of light trees behind them, when one of the light trees fell over, crashing to the stage floor behind the candidates. Fortunately no one got hurt, but “it scared everybody,” she said. “It scared me most of all.”
Evans also has some favorite memories from among the estimated 1,200 performances or events that have been run in the PAC in its 20 years.
One she mentioned was a collaboration many years ago between the choir department and a theater group giving a performance based on the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The lobby for the PAC was made into a village and people were in costumes of the Dickens era.
Evans also relishes the memories of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Children’s Theatre Company, the 3M Symphonic Orchestra, Guthrie Theater, the Ragamala dancers, and the many school plays, musicals, concerts and lyceums that were held in the PAC.
She recalled one program about a decade ago in which the bald eagle brought on stage gazed at the lapel mike on the person holding the eagle and bit it into pieces. There was another presentation with a bald eagle in which the first- and second-graders seemed bored until the eagle defecated on the stage floor. Then the kids laughed uproariously, she said.
Evans said the funniest thing she saw at the PAC, and what she claims to be the “funniest in her life,” was a scene in the play “Murder in the Magnolias.” In the scene, Dwight “Ike” Carlson, of Princeton, played a southern gentleman who had more than one personality. In this particular scene, Carlson rolled around the stage with an old stuffed parrot attached to one arm, fighting with the flopping parrot and repeatedly yelling, “Don’t bite me.”
Carlson, apprised of Evans’ comments, and learning of Evans retiring from the job, said he appreciated Evans’ thoughtful and hard work in having the PAC ready for the groups that were booked there. He also said he appreciated her promotion work to bring in many artistic performers. He said he especially liked the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra playing in the PAC under the direction of Boston Pops Orchestra conductor Keith Lockhart.
Evans, looking back on all she has seen at the PAC, said, “I’ve seen the best shows here … world class.”
Evans graduated from Metro State University in 1986 with a degree in theater administration. She says she had learned the management aspect of a PAC manager’s job but didn’t yet know the technical skills for operating the sound board and light console that would be found at a PAC.
Evans said she was fortunate that the PAC’s first performers brought their own technicians for the tech booth and that she learned the tech booth skills from watching them at work.
“We used to have a lot of professional shows in the beginning,” and the tech workers were generous and knowledgeable, she said. “Every time they had a show I would ask them, ‘What’s this?’ and ‘What’s that?’”
She added: “All I can say is the first few shows (while on her own), I pity them (people in the PAC). I’m extremely grateful for their patience and forbearance.”
She called learning the technical skills for the job her biggest challenge. She noted that the prescribed lighting and sound requirements in productions continuously change, and the equipment technology changes.
Evans said that among her biggest job satisfactions was working with and training the many high school students who worked part time in the tech booth. She noted that many of them have gone on to theater tech jobs.
But despite the satisfactions with the PAC, Evans said she has found frustration among many in the community over the years who have been unable to book the PAC to use it because the demand has exceeded the availability. The school district recently expanded the times the PAC is available, including Sundays.
It is a good bet that even after Evans leaves the PAC sound booth for the last time and turns out the lights, she will continue to advocate for the performing arts in Princeton.