“I am both very happy and very unhappy when it comes to my friend and fellow Player Beth Harrison. After 22 years at the U.S. Mint (and 39 years of total federal service), I am happy to report that she just retired. However, I am very unhappy to report that she is moving to Virginia Beach to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. What? And leave the tiny make-up and dressing area at the James Lee Center that we lovingly refer to as ‘the Hole’? … for her family?
I guess I understand. After all, she joined the Players in 1999, working on our second production, Macbeth Did It, when we were performing at Frost Middle School. She was recently widowed looking for a social outlet, and joining the group meant that she could bring along her young son. It was a great opportunity for both since he could work backstage or help build sets along with his school-mates. And so – the Players soon became a second family.
Beth brought some theater experience with her. As a teen, her mother had enrolled her in a stagecraft class at Fort Sill. Not only could she use her skills at ‘putting things together’ (her grandfather had taught her to use power tools), she also had a great instructor who taught her ‘the secrets’ behind harmlessly giving someone a black eye or a broken nose via stage make-up.
She also brought improvisational skills. Once, a vintage costume had begun to disintegrate between Act 1 and Act 2. Two of us stood there like deer in the headlights– a needle and thread wouldn’t work. Beth took the dress, worked some magic with iron-on interfacing and made the dress usable for the rest of the production. When I made a fuss over her she just shrugged, ‘It’s what comes of being an Army wife for 23 years. You learn to make do.’
Over the past 20 years, Beth has worked on at least 70 PPF productions and most of us think of her as the resident make-up artist. However, she reminded me that not only has she guided cast members through the best options for base make-up, heightened cheekbones, a hint of a larger bosom, and even an actor’s six-pack; but she has also acted, ‘done hair’, props, stage crew, set decoration and stage management. So, although some of us think of her as the Make-up Lady, the greater community has honored her with 7 WATCH awards for Hair Design (Auntie Mame), Hair and Make-up: (You Can’t Take it with You), Hair and Make-up (Moon Over Buffalo ), Outstanding Props and Set Decoration (The Front Page).
It was during the run of The Front Page that she and fellow WATCH award winner Robbie Snow had meticulously decorated the set of the old Chicago newsroom with cigarettes and cigar butts, peanut shells, empty beer bottles, scrap paper and other assorted and disgusting trash. Unfortunately, between shows a County custodial supervisor showed up, saw all the trash onstage, yelled at the local custodians and had them ‘clean the place up.’ Beth and Robbie discovered this right before a performance and really had to scramble. Luckily, the Hole can be the source for every type of ‘prop.’
Beth certainly is proud of the WATCH awards she has received but she is most proud of guiding and teaching. She has given many of us helpful tips as we apply the foundation, eye makeup, and, yes, even bruises – but she has also enjoyed teaching someone how to use a power tool or how to repair a piece of jewelry for the stage, or even showing a couple of our young members how to ‘remove the innards’ out of a washing machine so an actor could climb inside it and ‘agitate it’ across the stage.
In fact, Robbie Snow added, ‘Beth Harrison has been my partner in the Hole, since I joined PPF with Heaven Can Wait. She taught me make-up, we bonded over hot curlers, magic combs and daughters named Amanda. But I really got to know her patience and caring side, when we worked on Liz Mykiten’s production of The Wizard of Oz. – 53 munchkins, people! (And we won’t even discuss candlestick phones in The Front Page).’
We will miss her selfless support to all of us in the Hole and up onstage, her dry sense of humor, and her commitment to the company. When you arrived to prepare for a show and would see Beth already sitting by the make-up table, with all your supplies prepared and waiting for you – you knew everything would be fine.
We wish her well in this new chapter of her life … but, boy will we miss her!”
Tina Hodge Thronson,
Editor, Member WEBLetter