WATERLOO – Betty Goettsch believes in magic — the kind of magic that synchronizes lights, sound and actors hitting their cues. She’s the stage manager for “The Understudy,” the Waterloo Community Playhouse’s current production, which opened Friday.
“If you’re doing your job right and doing it quietly, no one is going to be aware of what you’re doing backstage. I love that magic. It’s fun, and that’s why I do it.”
Goettsch has been involved in WCP and Black Hawk Children’s Theatre productions for nearly 50 years. The retired teacher has performed in front of the footlights in various shows over the years, but the real action — and what she enjoys the most — happens behind the scenes.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a so-so actor, but I’m damn good backstage,” she said, laughing. She’s excited the audience will peek behind the curtain and learn what a stage manager does in “The Understudy.”
“One of my jobs as stage manager is to be a cheerleader, to encourage the actors and give feedback and make sure everyone is on script, especially actors who seem a little shaky onstage. The stage manager has to be organized and keep track of what everyone is doing,” Goettsch explained.
Over the years, she has worked on crews, helped build and paint stage sets, served as a production assistant and usher. Goettsch averages about 1,000 hours a year as a volunteer at the theater and shows no signs of slowing down.
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She credits her longevity to good genes and “the good Lord. I wake up in the morning and everything is working, so I’m fine.”
Goettsch was born in Texas and moved to Kansas in her last year of high school when her dad, Wesley, a railroad man, was transferred. “My dad didn’t raise me to be a sweet little thing. He raised me to be a person who had drive,” she said, and she learned to compete against her three brothers. In school, she avoided home economics classes in favor of chemistry, physics and the debate team.
The theater bug took a chunk out of her as a senior in high school. Cast as a “bratty little sister” in a school production, she bounded onto stage and jumped on the sofa. “The sofa went over backwards, and I got caught up in the curtain. My dad was howling with laughter in the front row. Trouble was, I just couldn’t do it again on cue,” Goettsch recalled, laughing.
She played a prostitute in her first college production. “It’s was a play about a trial, and I had to sashay up the aisle to the stage. They taught me how to walk with my hips swaying to establish my character. I still think I do that today,” she said, smiling.
She transferred from Kansas University to Iowa State University, where she earned her degree and met her husband, Alvin Goettsch. They were married in 1943, and her husband went to work for the ISU Extension Service. While he was traveling the state, Goettsch filled her time with rearing three children, Theodora, Wesley Jane and Steve, teaching and working in theater in Story City.
Eventually the family found their way to Waterloo in 1968. Goettsch taught chemistry, physics, biology and earth sciences at Dike-New Hartford School for 29 years before her retirement.
Her first onstage role at WCP was in May 1973, when she played Anna in a production of “Mark.” She has stage managed comedies, dramas and musicals over the years. Occasionally Goettsch bartered her backstage skills for homemade sugar cookies from set designer Steve Stabenow.
Any spare time Gottesch has is spent volunteering at World’s Window in Cedar Falls and at Cedar Falls’ First United Methodist Church, where she greets churchgoers on Sundays and makes quilts. She has been named one of the Courier’s 8 over 80 honorees and received the Mayor’s Award. In 2009, Goettsch was recognized with the Association of American Community Theater’s Robert E. Gard Superior Volunteer Award.