The Writing Is On The Wall...and That's a Good Thing

Mike McVey

Mike McVey, retired technical director of Dave Finkelman Auditorium

By Rod Nimtz

Retired after over 25 years of serving as technical director of the Dave Finkelman Auditorium, Mike McVey created a unique way of recording the people who performed and spoke there across a quarter century.

Backstage, across the walls on the stage right side of auditorium, are the autographs of dancers, singers, musicians, speakers, and government officials ranging from The Guess Who to Jerry Reed, Ralph Stanley, and Trombone Shorty.

Mary Ellen Withrow, past Treasurer of the United States, signed the wall, "and it looks just like the signature on all the currency printed while she was in office," McVey said. "We had many who signed the wall more than once as they came back for encore performances, like Arlo Guthrie, Chris Brubeck, and the late Jean Redpath."

As technical director, McVey worked with all aspects of performances from lighting and sound to staging and furnishing, both onstage of backstage. "We scrambled to meet some last-minute requests, including one artist who asked to have all the air conditioning vents blocked in the green room as that was where she was preparing for the performance."

McVey is the first to admit that the wall(s) of autographs began without formal permission, but soon grew into a great tradition, and historical record. "When the Middletown Symphony had its final performance last spring, ending 75-years of performances, we cleared an area upstage for all the musicians in that last concert to sign the wall. The auditorium is the perfect place for that kind of 'memorial' since it was the performance home of the symphony since it opened in 1969."

Speakers including Julian Bond, Beverly Sills, Sarah Brady, and most recently J.D. Vance, added their names to the walls, joining performers such as Hugh Laurie, the Goo Goo Dolls, dancers from the Moscow Ballet, Helen Reddy, and Lebanon native actor Woody Harrelson.

McVey long encouraged student involvement in the production work of the auditorium, and this extended to the autographs of student workers – many of whom were there for multiple seasons – to the collection.

"The students claimed a block as their own to create a special space just for them," he recalled. "One of our longest-serving student workers was Mike Fielder, who now leads the drama program at Princeton High School. He picked a block on the stairwell leading up to the control booth…a perfect place for a theater 'techie' to add his autograph."

And that is where McVey will add his autograph to the collection. His signature will join those of statesmen, singers, dancers, magicians, storytellers, musicians, actors, and others who performed at the Dave Finkelman Auditorium.

It's the autograph of the performer the audience didn't see, but who made the magic happen for so many.