Setting the Stage

Emmett Woods is one of many people who have made the Trueblood Performing Arts Center (TPAC) what it is today. What started off as a dream and vision by Ruth and Wilson Trueblood through a generous bequest, a gift of land and initial endowment funding from Arni and Mary Richter, and unlimited donations of time and money from the Washington Island community at large, the Trueblood is a first-class facility that offers high quality entertainment to the visitors and community of the island.

Emmett became involved with TPAC when he retired from his career in pharmaceutical research with Searle in Chicago, Illinois. He and his wife Marty moved up to Washington Island to build a house and put down retirement roots. Here Emmett was allowed to pursue a second career of sorts, as the theater manager of TPAC.

From young adulthood, Emmett has always been interested in the audio side of production in the performing arts. He is a skilled guitarist, piper and singer. Being able to work as the theater manager at TPAC was a perfect fit for a man of great intellectual curiosity and the desire to work in audio production. It was a good fit, both for TPAC and for Emmett.

Emmett took over the role of stage manager of TPAC from the first person to set the auditorium up, Ed Regnier. Ed moved to Washington Island after retiring from being involved in productions with Ravinia in Chicago.

Another person who helped to set the “stage” for TPAC was Bob Schwartz. Bob owns a theater rental company in Milwaukee. He gave countless hours of help in setting up the auditorium, donating equipment and providing a stage curtain for a very reasonable cost.

Between the donation of time and support, the TPAC was up and running.

Being the theater manager for TPAC does not really describe the many jobs and hats that Emmett wears while at work. Between Emmett and John Chapman, a tireless volunteer of TPAC, the two men have coordinated the resolution of structural problems with the original building, upgrades to the theater lighting equipment, the addition of backstage dressing rooms and a bathroom, installation of video-projection equipment, stage redesign, upgrades to the sound system – the list goes on and on.

To further illustrate why Emmett is such a perfect fit for this multi-faceted, hands-on job, as a young boy he built not just a play fort, but a fort with a small wood-burning stove complete with a chimney he crafted from found bricks. With its sliding roof, it also served as a backyard observatory for Emmett’s budding interest in astronomy.

The beautiful home he and his wife built on the island’s north shore, has been a labor of love, and another opportunity to learn skills such as masonry and timber-framing.

In the offseason, when Trueblood is less busy, Emmett has found time to serve as a substitute teacher for the Washington Island School, and to use his masonry experience to help build the wood-fired bread oven next to the local coffee shop in exchange for opportunities to bake his sourdough bread whenever the oven is hot.

Several years ago, he was part of the group of community volunteers who built the breathtaking wooden Stavkirke, modeled after the original wooden Christian churches built in Norway.

The scientific career that Emmett had before retirement has played a part in the attention to detail Emmett uses for running TPAC. While Emmett prefers to think of his connection to TPAC as an adventure at which he can fine-tune his skills at audio production, it is not lost on the community that his dedication to TPAC far exceeds just a passing interest in audio production and lighting.

All performances – whether the classical music festival that is an annual event, the Island Players, veterans programs, school plays, professional performances from off island, or the community band– receive the same desire for complete perfection from this man.

The sense of adventure Emmett feels when working at TPAC is what has kept him involved there for so many years. Each performance is closely monitored with a desire to learn more and in turn to apply that mastery to the next event. It is a mutual respect between Emmett and TPAC. Everyone benefits from this kind of relationship.

Should TPAC thank Emmett, or should Emmett thank TPAC? It is clear that the island community is fortunate to have the two of them, working together.