Why two Wright State University graduates have a reason to celebrate this year’s Tony Awards

Wright State University alums Layan Elwazani and Ross Fielhauer have reason to celebrate this year's Tony Awards. After all, they're respectively essential to "The Band's Visit" and "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two," among the most critically acclaimed productions of Broadway's 2017-2018 season.

The 72nd Annual Tony Awards will be held on June 10, 2018, to recognize achievement in Broadway productions during the 2017–18 season. The ceremony will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and will be broadcast live by CBS.

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When she arrives at the Barrymore Theatre a half-hour before curtain, Elwazani, 24, has to be ready to cover multiple roles in “The Band’s Visit” but the pressure doesn’t bother her. She enthusiastically embraces her responsibility as a standby, meaning she doesn’t perform unless one of the principal performers is out. She joined the show in March and officially made her Broadway debut in April.

“Preparation is key,” said Elwazani, who received her BFA in Acting in 2015 having appeared in such shows as “The Magic Fire” and “All in The Timing.” “I am one of two women who standby. I cover three of the four female roles. From a creative and artistic standpoint, out of eight shows a week, I usually spend one show watching it from inside the theater, another peeking at it backstage from the wings, and the other six I go over material in my dressing room for my characters from blocking to music to lines. Even when I’m a principal character in a show, I still have to have discipline within myself that I’m reviewing my lines and blocking. I work with such incredibly focused and driven individuals on stage, which makes it very easy to feel prepared because I feel taken care of.”

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Stylistically and musically, “The Band’s Visit” is the polar opposite of many shows vying for attention on the Great White Way. It’s a quiet, thought-provoking tale of connection within a cultural melting pot many traditional theatergoers are unaccustomed to. Even so, its bold uniqueness is a strong selling point, and Elwazani, a Palestinian-American who grew up in Bowling Green, feels likewise.

“Within the juxtaposition of cultures, the clashing of belief systems and morals, the Israelis open up their homes to an Egyptian band and it really resonates with audiences,” she said. “We have a group of people which are seen as The Other who enter this world in which anything bad could happen at any moment. However, the show highlights the fact that the things that are different about us are not as important as the things that are the same about us.

“We all have hardships and we all suffer loss no matter what language we speak. The human experience is really illuminated in this show. And this show is so beautifully simple. Not every theatrical experience has to be crafted. Our director, David Cromer, has allowed the actors to truly live and breathe in the moment without having to do too much. It’s so exciting that this beautiful piece of art is such a standout even in the height of all the exciting mania surrounding the Tonys.”

Elwazani acknowledges “The Band’s Visit” has been a great learning experience, but gives credit to WSU for reminding her to continue training.

“Wright State offers a wonderful foundation for all artists and the faculty really students to continue their education after college,” she said. “After you’ve graduated and moved to New York you’re not done learning. It’s frightening sometimes to show up to auditions with people who have master’s degrees or have studied at Stella Adler or studied Sanford Meisner for years. Wright State helped me understand the lessons they were teaching me in the moment were very valuable and it was on me to continue learning, growing and enriching myself.”

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Growing up in Cincinnati, Ross Fielhauer always loved theater, specifically design. He saw “The Phantom of the Opera” in fourth grade and knew he wanted to be a part of what made a production shine from behind the scenes. He took many art classes and ultimately relished taking technical theatre classes at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He received his BFA in Lighting Design and Technology in 2003 having worked on such shows as “Parade,” memorably scenic designed by Don David, and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

“Going to college for theater simply solidified if I wanted to make a career in theater,” said Fielhauer, 37. “I still lean on those art skills I learned all those years ago. One of the best parts about the WSU theatre program is that you start designing shows right away as a freshman. You hit the ground running. From dance concerts to black box shows to assistant design on the main stage. The major lesson I learned in college was the importance of time management, a major requirement in theatre. College helped me prepare for the real world. I had great professors. Tim Judge, retired WSU master carpenter and production manager, was an amazing influence. He really made getting my college degree worth it. I owe a great debt to him for all he taught me.”

After lighting shows on Royal Caribbean cruise ships post-graduation, Fielhauer moved to Las Vegas in 2005, where he spent seven years working on such shows as “Blue Man Group” and “Disney’s Lion King.” In 2012, he moved to New York where he worked on “Aladdin,” “Beautiful,” “Jersey Boys,” “Hamilton,” and Cirque du Soleil’s “Paramour” among many others.

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The fact that “Paramour” performed at the Lyric Theatre proved providential for him when it was announced last year that the Broadway transfer of London hit “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” would be housed there after its renovation, which reduced the number of seats from 1,900 to 1,500 in order to bring more intimacy to the spectacle’s eye-catching extravagance. Even the walls of the Lyric are an instrumental part of the show’s astounding storytelling, accented by dazzling special effects and a particularly jaw-dropping finale to Part One that is unforgettably creepy and mesmerizing.

“When the theatre house electricians like you and know you are a smart hard worker it can pay off down the road,” he said. “Broadway is a small world. And we all help each other. You just have to prove your worth first. When I heard ‘Potter’ was moving into the Lyric, I knew there was going to be a lot of work to be done. They were going to go big. I was very fortunate to be asked to work on it from the start. They completely redesigned the inside of the theater, which is gorgeous and a must-see in person.

“We started prepping all the lighting equipment in October and started loading in the show in November. It has been a long but great year. I’m part of a 10-person lighting team. My main responsibility is to assist the head pyrotechnic technician with preset before the show. There is a lot of prep work for every show. Also simply maintaining the rig is a beast. During the show I primarily run one of the six follow spots. I am also the backup moving light technician for the show which involves being on the stage working alongside the cast and crew during the show. It’s really exciting to be on stage during this show.”

A huge “Harry Potter” fan, Fielhauer remains thrilled about the show’s reception. He admits the show is one of the most technically challenging, biggest, and most complicated he’s ever worked on, but is very proud of this moment in his career. “There’s nothing better than to hear a reaction from a massive crowd night after night and knowing you were a part of it,” he said.

“Walking to the subway from the theatre every night after the show and overhearing audience members reminiscing about scenes they loved always makes me crack a smile. I truly love entertaining people. They don’t know me or what I do. I never needed that limelight. I’m just extremely grateful to be a part of it all hidden away in the shadows doing my best to give them a good evening. There is so much going on backstage in every scene to pull off the magic. And you will not hear the details from me. We are all sworn to secrecy. #keep the secrets. No spoilers. Come see it!”

How to watch

What: "The 72nd Annual Tony Awards," hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, June 10

Network: CBS

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