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A nice guy who gets a jolt out of theater

By on January 31, 2018 in Arts with 0 Comments

Jeff Heminger: “I know the kind of problem-solving I do at the P.U.D. is related to creative stage work.”

By Susan Lagsdin

At a glance, you can probably tell musical comedy veteran Jeff Heminger, 37, is often cast as the nice guy, the handsome leading man.

In years hence, some local director will doubtless demand “get me a young Jeff Heminger” to fill those hard-to-cast parts.

That’s why he’s had such a good time playing bad guys: Dr. Neville Craven in The Secret Garden — he got to stage-slap a child! — and the gruff, overbearing, insensitive General Howell in Kiss Me Kate.

In his many roles on the Music Theatre of Wenatchee and Leavenworth Summer Theater stages, those are his only close encounters with evil. He looks like a guy you can trust.

You can. And that’s the quality — no acting involved — that he brings to his day job. As manager of the power operations for Douglas County P.U.D., the real-time working of the hydroelectric grid, he’s the person who knows where every kilowatt is at every minute and constantly studies and updates myriad contingency plans.

Jeff sees connection between his work and his art.

“There’s always the math and music connection,” he said. “We know those patterns are similar. And I know the kind of problem-solving I do at the P.U.D. is related to creative stage work.”

At Dartmouth College it seemed natural to him to complete an untypical double major in engineering and music. He’d been blessed with parents who kept him steadfastly practicing piano and clarinet as a child, and he was very good at math. “I figured I’d go into engineering, so I looked around and realized electricity was really cool…”

His post-college job hunt in the Northwest landed him a position back at the P.U.D. where he’d interned in the summers, and he’s been working there ever since.

And his matured musical abilities landed him plenty of gigs as pit musician, arranger and director. Then, because he had loved being in productions at Wenatchee High School, in 2006 he auditioned for MTW’s Urinetown (“Even the script refers to that as an awful title,” he said) and never looked back.

Jeff is firmly committed to MTW both as a performer and as a long-time board member and is awed by its success.

“This theater has been continuously open and operating since 1961… we own the building, we’re solvent, and sometimes we need to choose from three proposed scripts from directors for our next show.”

Every cast of every show seems to bond in a certain way, and Jeff is grateful for “that sense of camaraderie, of family, that you get when you collaborate so intensely with other people.”

He’s also enjoyed watching the progress of the newest, youngest performers like Jacob Scott, Emma Standerford and others as they find their voice, their footing, their place and move from chorus roles to more challenging character parts.

Twelve years after his first performance back in Wenatchee as an adult, Jeff’s name has been on local play programs dozens of times, whether for musical directing/conducting/arranging positions, for playing music “in the pit,” or for singing, dancing and acting under the lights.

Two other venues receive some of that bounty of talent: Jeff sings and plays music at his church, and he is a member of the Wenatchee Valley Symphony.

Sometimes he’s had to ask Susan (his also-talented wife and mother of their five children ages 6 years to 7 months) “Let me know if that’s too much….”

They decided this year they need to cut back on extra-familial activities. Just a bit. “Well,” he said, “We decided if there’s a really good role that I just can’t pass up, I’ll take it.” He knows she’s proud of him, glad he’s using his talents so well.

Jeff and Susan met in a summer production in Leavenworth, and she’s eager to return to acting someday. Jeff said, “We’re thinking when the kids are a little older, when it isn’t so crazy around our house, we can both get fully involved again.”

It’s likely at least some will follow dad into a life of performing art. Emma, 6, played Gretl in The Sound of Music last summer and will probably take piano lessons from Diane Stober, who was Jeff’s music teacher 30 years ago. Her little brother Elliot, 5 danced in The Nutcracker at Christmas.

Jeff’s two big jobs are keeping lights on all over Douglas County and being a supportive dad to his big family, and they dominate his days.

How about after hours?

Two things keep him coming back to the theater season after season. The camaraderie is unbeatable, he said, in this arts community rich with volunteers. “Here, it’s easy to find passionate people willing to give their time to the things they love.”

And, as every performer knows, there is always a thrill, an adrenaline rush, when you’re about to walk on stage. Whether you’re playing a nice guy, a bad guy or a clarinet, Jeff said, “It’s a good thing to be anxious — it means you really care!”

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