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Tony Koehler of The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio on Magical Theater Moments

By Meredith Liepelt, CEO of Rising Star Publicity

Tony Koehler is the production manager at The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio. The company’s next production is The Day the Music Came Back by Alvaro Saar Rios, June 27-30 at the Riffe Center. 

Meredith: What sparked your interest in theater? What do you remember about first being intrigued by it?
Tony: My mom took me to see Disney on Ice: Peter Pan as kid and I remember my shock and awe when Peter and the Darling kids took flight over the ice rink and the audience. From there on I was a Peter Pan fanatic; my mom made me a Peter Pan costume and I strapped on my roller blades to go trick or treating. Not long after Mary Martin’s Peter Pan was played on TV and immediately, I fell for the theatrical spectacle. The Mary Martin version opened my eyes to the fact that stories could be told different ways and in totally different styles. I didn’t know it at the time but that was a very early version of my love for dramaturgy, the history of the story and the “why” behind certain storytelling choices.

Meredith: What are some of your favorite theatrical moments?
Tony: I love the magic moments of theater. Experiencing the collective “yes” when an audience leans in and really connects with the emotion of the moment. It can be a line in a monologue or when a well written lyric is perfectly paired with the melody. Or even flat-out illusion; the physical magic in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is phenomenal.

Meredith: Who are some of your inspirations?
Tony: My theatrical heroes are Julie Taymor (The Lion King) and Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphoses), both theater-makers who make magic on stage with slightest of gestures, a powerful line, a simple visual. They can take something epic like a shipwreck and you will feel the rage and treachery of the storm and the fear of the sailors all with a handful of actors, some poetic movement and toy ship. It’s magic really and they both are masters of it. I love seeing and making theater like that.

Meredith: What question do you get asked most often about your role as production manager at The Contemporary?
Tony: The question I get asked the most is, “What exactly is that?” As a production manager my role is one part project manager, one part producer, one part artistic oversight. I’m a problem solver that oversees the budget, the schedule, the technical elements and the talent for each show and the season as a whole. I ensure each show is safe and is delivered in budget and on time. There’s a lot of logistics, but I am fortunate enough at The Contemporary that I also have a seat at the table when it comes to artistic decisions. True to my early love for the theater, I personally strive to makes sure we always honor the show and the playwright and present a piece of theater that has integrity.

Meredith: Did you always want to be a production manager?
Tony: It was a long and not so direct path to my current role. I started performing in elementary school, got my first paid acting gig at 17 in Joey & Maria’s Italian Wedding where I played “Sammy Spumoni,” the tag-a-long kid cousin in sort of big fat Italian wedding spoof on a riverboat in Cincinnati, every Saturday night for until I was a freshman in college. I think went on to study set and prop design in college, which blended my love of visual art and still let me tell stories in theater. I moved to Chicago after school and did prop and puppet design all over town, then to Miami where I ran a retail specialty store on the beach for several years. I returned to my first love of theater and moved to Washington, D.C., where I continued to prop design and set decorate while also teaching theater and directing for schools and small companies. While in D.C., the production manager position opened up at the theater that I was designing for, and I knew that with my theater background, coupled with my years of managing a large retail store, I could production manage if given the chance. They took the chance and here I am eight years and two theaters later with a solid career under my belt.

Meredith: What’s upcoming are you excited about?
Tony: My husband and I moved to Columbus three years ago and I am so excited to witness the forward momentum the city is experiencing now. There’s an energy here that’s really picked up and I’m excited for what’s in store for Columbus.

Mainly, I’m excited to help foster world class theater here in the heart of the city and the state. Columbus deserves exceptional theater that the rest of the country is experiencing, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that. I’m also heading up a new work force development program at The Contemporary that employs high school students as theater professionals. Like my early path, this will be many of the students’ first paid acting gig, in a new play that I’m directing called The Day the Music Came Back by Alvaro Saar Rios (author of Luchadora!).

Meredith: What are some of your favorite things about Columbus?
Tony: We’ve been really impressed with the food and beverage scene here in Columbus. From five-star places like Speck (our fav!) to smaller joints like Little Palace, the food scene is on par – if not better than – what we had in D.C. and Miami. We lived downtown our first year and recently have been fortunate to buy a home in Eastmoor where we love a little mom n’ pop spot Pita House for quick and delicious Mediterranean.

The Day the Music Came Back by Alvaro Saar Rios will be performed June 27-30 at the Riffe Center, Studio Two. For tickets and more information: TheContemporaryOhio.org.

This article is part of a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Art Makes Columbus campaign. Explore a calendar of events, public art database and artist stories at columbusmakesart.com. To learn more about GCAC grants visit gcac.org.

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