Thursday, July 14, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Summer--Backstage at Cain (Pain) Park

This is a guest post by hubby, Wally, about his two summers working backstage at famed Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, OH, during the 1950s. The summer season at that time included 4 musicals (which ran for 2 weeks each). 

Cain Park in the 1940s - Cleveland State Library Special Collections

When I was 17 and 18 and still in high school, I worked as a summer apprentice at Cain Park Theater, and my younger sister worked on the paint crew. During the day, I built scenery and at night, I ran a follow-spot on actors during the shows. Because the stage was 90 feet wide, it needed a lot of scenery to fill it. We built almost a full-size house for Wizard of Oz, for example, and a working merry-go-round for Carousel.

It was a challenge because while one show was running, we were building the scenery for the next and handling backstage duties during the current show's evening performance. (We nicknamed the place "Pain Park" because we worked so hard.) Similarly, the cast had to rehearse the next show during the day while performing the current show each night. The cast included dancers and singers and up-and-coming performers . . . people like Dom DeLuise, for example, who I remember was just hilarious in The Red Mill.

The stage crew had a tradition of trying to distract the cast during the final performance of each show (as a prank). In Annie Get Your Gun, I ran a follow-spot from my position high on a brick tower (see two covered in ivy in photo above). During the show, Annie Oakley and her friends are returning from Europe by ship; they're hungry and Annie shoots into the sky to bring down dinner. I would then throw a stuffed seagull from the tower so it would land onstage. All the audience could see is that Annie shot into the sky and this bird dropped near her feet--except the night I missed and threw it into the orchestra pit. 

During the last performance, a friend was in the tower with me. When Annie shot, we threw every stuffed prop we could get our hands on: a pig, a roast turkey, a cat, a puppy. As these items rained down around the star, one of the cast adlibbed: "My, that's fine shootin', Annie!" Looking back, I'm surprised management didn't throw me out of the theater at that moment.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts (one for each week of 2011) that invite genealogists and others to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants.


  1. What a great memory. My mother, Kay Layden, played Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ while Dom Deluise was the Cowardly Lion. I found a cast photo and had it blown up and framed for her many years ago.

  2. Thanks for reading and sharing! Your mother must have been very happy to have that cast photo as a memento of her time in the spotlight.