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Michael Emerson at the Wieting

July 7, 2010
By John Speer, Editor
TOLEDO CHRONICLE - Fresh from the popular ABC-TV series ‘Lost,’ Toledo and South Tama’s own Michael Emerson was back in town last week. He spent a couple of hours on Monday afternoon chatting with a group of friends and classmates (South Tama ‘72) and community members associated with the historic Wieting Theatre .

“I had no idea so many old friends would be here today,” Emerson said. He was also met by two of his high school teachers, Ann Michael and David John, whom he has credited with being important in his acting career. Both now retired, Michael taught English and directed plays. John was high school band director.

Emerson even took to the Wieting’s stage, not to act, but to reminisce and to continue to voice his support for the $1.2 million renovation fund drive for the historic 1912 theatre-opera house now underway. The theatre was a gift to the community from Ella Wieting in honor of her husband, Phillip.

“We need to go that extra step to save this old-time theatre,” Emerson said. “A lot of us have histories here.”

And Emerson’s history with the Wieting goes way back. He marveled, “My grandmother played in the high school orchestra in the orchestra pit under the stage on which we’re standing.” He added, “I just learned recently my grandmother also played piano for silent movies at the Wieting.”

She was LaRue Bear Emerson, Toledo High School Class of 1923.

Taking a tour backstage,he was fascinated with the ornate dressing room in the basement with its mirrors lit by rows of light bulbs. Led by Bob Manfull, a theatre trustee, and Bob Dew, a Guild member, he even explored the basement prop storage area by flashlight. The lights don’t work in that area, one of the laundry list of items for the renovation.

Jim Roan, who chairs the building committee, explained to Emerson other restoration plans including restoration of original wall murals and updates to the equipment.

Emerson recalled his friend, Dick Wright (South Tama ‘68) who was a projectionist at the Wieting and the use of “hot burning” carbon rods in the projectors to that era. Although those are now longer in use in the Wieting projection booth, restoration plans also call for new projection and sound equipment.

Emerson said the Wieting is not unlike some of the vintage Broadway playhouses which are also feeling the effects of time.

Emerson said watching a South Tama High School play “Arsenic and Old Lace” at age 11 or 12 “which starred a guy from my church” - Bill McRoberts (Class of ‘68) - was when he first realized he “Wanted to be an actor.”

He also recalled the high school production of “Hell-o Dolly!” as a memorable early acting experience.

Emerson continued his interest in theatre while attending Drake University in Des Moines.

“I usually played old men in college,” Emerson said. “i have an unusual voice, but at least it’s audible.”

Of his recent success with ‘Lost,’ Emerson said, “I never knew from episode to episode what was to happen.” He said he believes the program was even more popular in Europe than in America.

For advice to aspiring actors Emerson said, “Stick with it. The industry is rough and it’s hard to fight your way up. There’s a thousand others who want the part you want.”

He said he was extremely happy he was able to succeed in the profession he enjoys and is committed to.

Before breaking full-time into his acting career, Emerson worked as a freelance illustrator in New York City and later found himself acting directing plays in Florida.

Article Photos

Well-known actor Michael Emerson (center) and classmates from South Tama High School (‘72) ham it up on stage of the Wieting Theatre during his visit on Monday, June 28. From left, Bob Manfull, Mark and Sue (Scarnweber) Patterson, Emerson, Eric Lyon Terri (Wikerson) Goodhardt, Kim Willer, B.J. (Betty Jo Hinegardner) Santema and Heidi (Cessford) Krabbe. Chronicle photos/John Speer

Fact Box

Michael Emerson:

Michael Emerson, 55,  was in Iowa to help his father, Ron, celebrate his 80th birthday at the end of June. Michael took the time to visit his home town to continue lending a hand to the Wieting cause and reacquaint with old friends.
He greeted and talked to each of his old acquaintances.
Emerson won an Emmy in 2001 for a guest appearance on the “The Practice” and has twice been nominated for Emmys for best supporting actor for his role as Ben Linus in the ABC TV series “lost.”
Most websites devoted to Emerson point out his tremendous talent on stage in live productions.
His parents, Ron and Carol, now live in Grinnell.
Emerson graduated from South Tama High School in 1972. He and his wife, Carrie Preston, now live in Los Angles.
Carrie currently stars in HBO’s top-rated series, True Blood.
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