by Christy Rodriguez de Conte
The future of theater and theater education looks bright and bountiful as Taylor Petty guides Making Light student creators toward a magical production of “Mary Poppins Jr.,” which runs through Jan. 22.
Taylor Petty wears many hats. She has worked as a powerful performer in “Imaginary Invalid,” structurally stage managed “Legally Blonde,” and wowed the audiences with wigs and make up for The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Originally from the Florida Panhandle, Petty moved to Tallahassee to pursue her educational studies at Florida State University’s Theatre Department where she received her Bachelor of Arts in theater. Most recently, Petty tried on the hat of educator at Making Light Productions and finds it fits just right.
“I think I’ve always really thrived in an academic environment. When I was a kid, I would pretend to be a teacher. That was my play time,” says Petty. “School is where I really felt comfortable. Once I got into the deep history of theater and world theater. That really confirmed with me what I really wanted to do.”
Petty has been teaching stagecraft and running the set design for “Mary Poppins Jr.” with Making Light productions this year. She believes that theater can teach children about socialization and collaboration, while instilling in them a sense of community.
Making Light Productions is a nonprofit theater organization which focuses on providing an inclusive theatrical education for children and adults. This community-engaged theater began in 2016 with only 22 students, and has since grown to a full-fledged artistic academy that serves over 200 students.
Making Light has developed its own arts complex which houses a theater, dance studio, arts studio and individual classrooms. Petty describes her gratitude for the opportunity to work with this amazing theater organization and lead future artists as blessed. “I love it … I want it. The kids are so amazing. The work is just so fulfilling for me. It doesn’t even feel like work.”
For centuries, women have fought for access to space in business, social spaces and cultural arenas. Thus, when theater makers find themselves in an all-female production, it is worth noting and celebrating. Petty describes working in the all-female production space of Making Light Productions as empowering. “The women I work with are always the most fierce organized. Amazing leaders every time,” Petty said.
What does this dynamic do to a space? Are women spaces still necessary as we stride into 2023? Petty insists the necessity lives on. She shared that she has had men question her abilities backstage before, a fact many female lighting designers, sound technicians and set constructors can attest to. Women are questioned in male-dominated technical fields and the shift in process and product is felt when women fill the space.
Petty reflects upon her experience working on “Mary Poppins Jr.” for Making Light Productions, “It feels more collaborative. It feels more cooperative. It feels very positive. And there is so much support for one another that it is not even questioned if can you do this. It’s really refreshing,” Petty said. “Tech, especially, is pretty male dominated, but I see more and more women going into the carpentry world. They are killing the game.”
“Winds in the East, mist coming in, like something is brewing and about to begin.” Mary Poppins and her magic has arrived at Making Light Productions. Taylor Perry, while avoiding any spoilers, shares some behind-the-scene tidbits sure to lure us into the audience. “We are going to be experimenting with how we can visually see the pieces [of Mary Poppins’ letter] fly up through the chimney and end up walking back on stage, perfectly intact.”
Petty gives credit to her students for infusing this production with their own backstage magic.
The future shines bright in her eyes when raving about her students. They are going to be amazing future techies. Curiosity drives them,” Petty said. “The kids helped me with every major set piece. I’m the designer but you guys are the crew.”
As the new year unfurls, the cast and crew of Making Light Production’s “Mary Poppins Jr.” will mystify audiences as they sing magic into the air and pull musical theater joy out of Mary Poppins’ large handbag.
Read the article on the Tallahassee Democrat.
Learn about the production of Mary Poppins Jr.