Backstage at the Varieties

Far right, Tap dancer Kayla Swarat takes her mark and waits for the curtains to open. The 12-year-old dancer performed to the song "Big Black Horse in a Cherry Tree" by K.T. Tunstal. Left top photo, Kayla Swarat and Curt Claughton, wait near the door while Dwayne Coffey signs posters and comedian Trish Rossell thinks funny thoughts. Middle photo, Betty Noack. Bottom photo, The Gospel Brass closed the evening on Saturday at the final Hermiston Varieties Show at the Hermiston High School auditorium.

By Luke Hegdal

Staff writer

HERMISTON — Hours before the Hermiston Varieties Show opened for the 10th and final time on Saturday, the stage crew had been setting up, preparing for the controlled pandemonium that is life backstage.

Production Manager David Florea rechecked equipment while Talent Coordinator Connie Gray refreshed the performers on their cues.

Sounds of tap dancing and banjo playing echoed along the tiled corridors as the performers warmed up. For some of them this was old hat, while for others this was their first show in front of a large crowd.

A few had been called in at the last minute to replace acts that had canceled.

The opening act, the Highland Hills Marimba Band, canceled just before the show opened due to icy road conditions in the Tri-Cities, and Jim Simpson and Curt Claughton suddenly found themselves first on the bill.

"How many songs have you got?" Florea asked the banjo and guitar duo while, onstage, Don Skeen introduced Betty Noack, the variety show's founder.

When Noack finished, announcing that this would be the last variety show, Simpson and Claughton were hustled onstage, with Kayla Swarat, a 12-year-old tap dancer, in the wings.

Meanwhile comedian Trish Rossell paced, rereading her notes.

Kayla, however, showed no signs of nervousness, even as her mother and her coach scrambled to find the music for her dance number.

Rossell, scheduled to be third, was bumped up while Nancy Swarat went in search of a new CD for her daughter's routine.

"Everyone bombs once," Rossell said laughing. "This could be my night."

In the women's bathroom, Laurie Ball-Keiser was singing "Old Friends," the song she had performed at the first Hermiston Variety Show 10 years earlier.

After the intermission, things went more smoothly. The performers went on as scheduled and Florea and Gray began to relax, cracking jokes backstage.

Hermiston's Matt Dunlap, a nine-time Oregon Tae Kwon Do champion, warmed up with his coach and stretched before demonstrating high kicks and Tae Kwon Do kata, or movement forms.

Dwayne Coffey, one of the Coffey Twins and an entertainment veteran, relaxed comfortably in the wings.

In the hall backstage the muffled sounds of The Gospel Brass warming up in the practice rooms could be heard as they prepared to close the evening.

As the last notes of sweet brass music died away, the production crew congratulated each other on yet another well-run show. And as the lights dimmed at the end of the last Hermiston Varieties Show, there was a hint of sadness, and maybe a little hope that someone else would keep the show alive.

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