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Backstage Tour at Broward Center for the Performing Arts
Ted Berman's eyes light up as he points out dozens of ropes and weights hanging along a dark corner next to the stage.
"See these ropes? There are 87 lines that run from here to the fly loft," he says, pointing up toward the ceiling. "You can release 1,000 pounds of weights to move a piece of the set. Actors have to stay on their toes and concentrate, because when those lines go, they go."
Children might be familiar with the center if they've attended one of the SEAS (Student Enrichment in the Arts) performances presented throughout the year in partnership with the Broward County School Board.
But on this fun tour, kids ages 8 and older can step behind the curtain and below the stage to see the inner workings of the center's Amaturo and Au-Rene theaters.
Berman's passion for the stage, which began as a toddler performing for his family, is infectious as he leads people behind the scenes. He's been a professional photographer, sold insurance, flown a small plane and served as stage manager of a small town theater, but he says he gets a kick out of being center stage as a tour guide because "maybe I was born a ham."
Plus, he loves kids' questions.
"Children ask the most interesting questions, and their inquisitiveness excites us tour guides. I remember this, that and the other from my theater days," he says. "I love it."
During the tour, visitors see a secret tunnel that connects sides of the theater and visit the chiller room that holds a humongous air-conditioning system.
People learn how ushers know when to let latecomers into a hushed theater.
"There's a late-seating cue," he says. "Every production has them. I remember in Camelot one of the cues was when Robert Goulet went behind a tree."
Visitors also get to live vicariously by traipsing through the "greenroom," which isn't really green, but does often host reporters during interviews. But "I've seen it inundated with wigs and costumes and hair dryers," says Berman. "It gets very crazy."
The theater veteran's anecdotes about his own dressing room experiences as stage manager bring the rooms alive.
"I was stage manager for a production of The King and I, and I had to keep track of all the king's wives and more than a dozen kids. There was makeup and scissors and costumes everywhere."
Families also can feel like royalty by checking out a star's dressing room (replete with lots of stars on the door and a red velvet couch inside) and peeking at the practice room where local 4-year-old boys auditioned for the role of Tam in Miss Saigon.
Dogs auditioned for Annie in the same room - "There were a few accidents," Berman says, chuckling.
Berman uses every opportunity to instill a love for theater in children and remind them that they too can be a part of showbiz in the future.
"Children will ask me the details about the structure of a theater company, from the producers to the stage manager to the chorus," says Berman, his voice rising with excitement. "I tell them there's so much they can do someday. They can be set designers, costume makers, sound engineers, light designers, stage managers or directors. It's all very exciting."
-- Cara Nissman
Broward Center for the Performing Arts 201 SW Fifth Ave.
Mondays at 1 p.m. and the first Sunday each month during the Riverwalk Jazz Brunch at noon, 12:45 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Free. For children ages 8 and older only. www.browardcenter.org