EAGLE GROVE - Roi Anne Gearhart had no trouble climbing the narrow ladder-like staircase into the light and sound booth in the Robert Blue Middle School auditorium. Not a bad achievement, considering she recently hurt her foot falling off an 8-foot stepladder while painting a house.
"I was lucky it was close to the ground," Gearhart said.
For the past 40 years, Gearhart has been a music teacher. For the past 25, she's also had a summer job painting houses, in addition to her piano and vocal studio and her volunteer directing work with various community groups.
ROI?ANNE?GEARHART sits at the sound board in the sound and light booth of the Robert Blue Middle School auditorium in Eagle Grove. Gearhart was in charge of the renovation which built the booth and installed new sound and lighting equipment back in 2000.
In 1980 Gearhart founded the Paddle Wheel Players, a community theater group, with Roberta Stauffer, another teacher.
The players present a major musical every other year, and fill the off-year with smaller productions like children's theater and readers' theater.
Gearhart has directed around 25 musicals with the group, with Stauffer directing the others.
"Some of those I've repeated, like I think I did 'The Music Man' three times," she said.
Back on the ground floor, the auditorium and stage were decorated for the upcoming production of "Into the Woods."
Of all her musicals, this one struck her as challenging.
"'Into the Woods' is probably the most difficult music-wise, because of the changing rhythms all the time, and that there aren't really scenes that end. ... You have to be on your toes all the time."
Gearhart likes directing because it's a way to express herself. She recalled fun incidents throughout the years.
"Once when we were doing 'The Music Man,' there's a place where Harold Hill says something about 'You all look like a bunch of Shropshire sheep,'" she said. "And all of a sudden here came in a couple sheep from the back door of the stage. Somebody brought them in just for fun."
Beth Stephas may have been in that production. Stephas said 'The Music Man' was the first play she did with the Players, back in 1998.
"I've done the 'Sound of Music,' 'Fiddler on the Roof,' 'The Wizard of Oz,' 'Annie,' a Christmas production and some madrigal dinners as well," Stephas said - all directed by Gearhart.
"She has great balance of fun-ness and seriousness. We know when it's time to get serious and work, but yet very she's fun-loving as well."
Stephas said she's been impressed by Gearhart's high level of professionalism and attention to detail, which lead to high quality productions.
"One thing I've found funny is, there will be some times where we've had a rehearsal and knew how bad we were. We know how many lines we missed, we know where people didn't have things memorized, and we dropped things, and she'll come back with a couple positive comments to keep us going.
"She doesn't need to say the negatives because she already knows we know that, so she tries to remind us of the positives. Which is nice. It makes you want to come back again, and make you want to continue do better."
Gearhart was in charge of the middle school auditorium renovation project back in 2000 which installed new sound and light equipment, refurbished the stage floor, and brought in new seats. That was also when they built the sound and light booth.
"Before we didn't have anything other than tables up front," she said.
Gearhart also conducts the Eagle Grove Chorale, and is director of music at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Gearhart said she knew since seventh grade that she wanted to be a music teacher. She got her start teaching at a middle school in Rolla, Mo., before moving to Eagle Grove.
"I came here to teach high school in 1973," she said. "Then I taught at Iowa Central for six years in 1985. Then I came back and taught elementary school for 20 years, and I retired this last school year."
Going from college to elementary school was the biggest adjustment, she said; she'd never even student-taught for that age before.
"The elementary students asked me very funny questions the first year," she said. "I'd be teaching them something like Beethoven, and a hand would go up and they wouldn't say anything about Beethoven. They wanted to know where I got the bracelet I had on, or something. And, they're so honest at that age. That's one of the things I guess was different."
Gearhart won't pick out her favorite age; she said she liked them all. Each age level had its own challenges.
"High school was a challenge in that, when I came here there were about four boys in the high school choir," she said. "College was a challenge in that I had lecture classes, like exploring music, things everybody had to take. The challenge in elementary was just a matter of trying to keep the kids going all the time, interest-wise."