If you’ve seen a Broadway show the last 17 years or so, you’ve seen Jennie Marino’s work.
Marino, who lives in Tappan, has created props for everything from “The Who’s Tommy” to “The King and I.” She still creates props for “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins,” making sure each piece is “opening-night fresh.”
But it all started with the Elmwood Playhouse in Nyack, where a 13-year-old Marino first came under the tutelage of Bob Olson, Elmwood’s late, great technical whiz.
Participating in the Town of Ramapo Traveling Theater, Marino met Jane Hunt, an Elmwood Playhouse founding member. Hunt invited the youngster to do makeup for the Elmwood production of “The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd” she was directing.
That was 39 years ago. Before long, she was Olson’s shadow, following him to his set work at Ramapo High School, even though she went to Spring Valley High.
After high school, Marino went off to explore things for a while, but she wandered back to the Park Street fixture in Nyack about 10 years later. Olson was still there, still spattering sets with his paint brush, and the master class continued.
Olson commissioned Marino to create the “Audrey” puppets for Elmwood’s “Little Shop of Horrors” in 1992, a job that required all her skills in puppetry, sculpting and “soft goods.” She also created life masks of the cast members, to create a spine-tingling tableau for the show’s finale.
That assignment put Marino on the path to Broadway — and sealed her connection to Elmwood, where she’s called on now to create specialty props or effects that are beyond the budget or ken of the volunteers.
“One of the reasons I stay is to mentor the next waves, as I was mentored,” she says. “Many local theaters have asked me to do for them what I do for Elmwood and I say, ‘No, Elmwood is my charity.’”
Marino is a firm believer in the power of community theater to change lives, on stage and behind the scenes.
“Community theater, whether it’s here or in Tuckahoe or Poughkeepsie, whether it’s an organization of 50 or 500, it is genuinely the opportunity where you can ‘I want to be a … blank.’ And here it is. Here’s the path. Go. Try. Do.”
“That’s the magic about Elmwood, that’s why somebody will come and stay there for 40 years, 50 years, five years. They come, they go, they have a kid, they come back. That’s what community theater is. It’s about creating.”
Photo by Peter Carr/The Journal News: Jennie Marino plays around in the prop room at Nyack’s Elmwood Playhouse.
(Find a Lower Hudson Valley community theater.)