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Traveling play director has people singing and dancing wherever he goes

By on July 23, 2018 in Arts with 0 Comments

Jaime Donegan pauses for a photo while cast members of The Full Monty rehearse one of the songs.

By Susan Lagsdin

Theater director Jaime Donegan pulled into town in mid-July after a cross-country trek from the East Coast.

Relaxing with laptop and binders in a far corner of the Numerica Performing Arts Center’s vacant lobby — a kind of living room for him after all these years visiting Wenatchee — he’d been listening to a song from 10-time Tony award-winning The Full Monty and making choreography notes in his script.

His directing duties would keep him in Wenatchee for the run of the show.

 The first full-cast read-through was that morning. Rehearsals would start in earnest on Monday, and from then until opening night musicians, singers, dancers and actors would wear themselves to a frazzle, a demanding joy, preparing for opening night and their eager audience.

The dream team of Don Fox Designs LLC and Jaime Donegan Productions, presenting the fifth of their “Hot August Nights” productions, was gearing up for another opening of another show.

 “I just love coming back to Wenatchee,” Jaime said. “Last night I walked into South for dinner and two of the waiters ran up to me with ‘Jaime! You’re back!’”

If it feels like home to him, it feels just as comforting for anyone who recognizes him.

 At this point in his life, there are many towns across the U.S.A. that Jaime can walk into and hear hearty greetings at every restaurant, every street corner.

Ever since graduation from Indiana University, when he ran away from the quiet cornfields of home to the vibrant streets of New York City, he’s centered his theatrical expertise on producing some variety of “The Follies,” first for a nationwide franchise, then independently.

 The Follies have been extant in America since 1910, pre-TV, pre-movies, pre-HBO. The premise is simple, the execution is not: to put on a bang-up musical stage show within weeks, hold (very) open auditions, create a cast of hundreds, let ’em sing, let ’em dance, add lights, costumes, makeup and Voila!! It’s showtime. Jaime goes to cities large and small around the nation and directs three of those a year, every year.

 Hundreds of local performers know that Wenatchee has had the pleasure of Jaime’s company as their Follies director every three years since 2001.

“Sometimes ‘The Follies’ feels like herding cats, but the quality of talent here is good,” he said. “I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do with it — and I never thought I’d have such a strong effect on people.”

Ironically, it was the interviews in local filmmaker Howell at the Moon’s documentary, American Follies, that finally made Jaime realize how much joy people have found in his life work.

Jaime bonded with Wenatchee so well that the next step was inevitable. Five years ago, his local friend and facilities/tech collaborator Don Fox basically asked him, “Hey, what are you doin’ this summer?”

The duo soon concocted with PAC leader Matt Cadman a new kind of theater experience that would jazz up the hot months in downtown Wenatchee and fill the PAC’s darkened house, without competing with the well-established Leavenworth Summer Theatre.

 Enter “Hot August Nights” a slate of stage shows with rave reviews on Broadway that hadn’t been tried in smaller communities like ours.

“They’re not exactly ‘edgy,’” Jaime reminded this interviewer, “I mean, some of them have been around for 40 or 50 years. But, they have themes and language we’re just not used to in live theater.” He listed The Rocky Horror Show, Bat Boy, Cabaret and Chicago.

 Last year’s show broke new ground. “I admit I was scared to death with Le Cage Aux Folles,” he said. “I had no idea what the reception would be. I was scared for myself and for the actors.”

Here he paused, remembering. “But when I stood at the back of the house and heard the roar at the end, the standing ovation, all the applause for that couple… I realized the play was all about matters of the heart, and that’s something anyone anywhere can relate to.”

 Jaime explained that his choice of scripts isn’t primarily for shock value, and he also doesn’t intend to replicate the well-known versions that have lingered so long on Broadway or have been made into movies.

 “Every show we do is unique to this cast, this stage, this single occasion,” he said. “I learned that whether I’m working with theater majors who’ve been off the stage for 30 years, local pros, new teen actors or middle-aged people trying something new, these plays are not about production, they’re about people.”

 Jaime was in fifth grade when he first saw a production of South Pacific. “The songs, the dancing. I remember being absolutely mesmerized by it — I thought ‘that’s what I want to do!’”

He said if life were to hand him copious amounts of time and money he’d love to dig into writing, producing and directing the next big Broadway hit, an idea that’s been cooking for a while.

 But for now, between doing Follies all over the country and Wenatchee summer theater with vacations in between, Jaime is part of what he calls “a national community.”

He’s nomadic, in a good way. “My dad once referred to me as basically ‘homeless,’” he said. “I explained that I’m really ‘home free.’ There’s a difference.”

Sitting in his cozy PAC parlor, humming a few good tunes, he looks like a contented man, comfortable with himself and his ad hoc hometown.

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