By Mr. Stephen Baack (IMCOM)May 1, 2014
ANSBACH, Germany (May 1, 2014) -- Only a mile from the expeditious planning and base support operations work that consumes the garrison headquarters at Barton Barracks is a place that seems a world away, where the visions of Shakespeare, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lewis Carroll and Sam Raimi regularly come to life.
Yet the two realms are intimately connected through the work of Vikki Hanrahan, entertainment director with Morale, Welfare and Recreation at U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach.
Hanrahan, who guides her volunteer workforce to take on five main stage productions per year, leads the Terrace Playhouse, serving as director, technical director, acting coach, designer and volunteer mentor.
Additionally, she coordinates all Armed Forces Entertainment, Navy Entertainment and USO shows that come into the community, and assists with non-facility-based community events like the Community Egg Hunt, Fourth of July celebration and Christmas tree lighting ceremonies.
That hard work hasn't gone unnoticed.
During the April 26 Topper Awards Show and Ceremony in nearby Kaiserslautern, Hanrahan received the MWR Recreation Career Employee of the Year Award in front of a crowd of hundreds. Presenting her award was Kathleen Marin, Installation Management Command Europe region director.
The Topper Awards Show and Ceremony is an annual "Tony Awards"-style event that recognizes achievements in the field of theater. To see all the Terrace Playhouse performers who were recognized at the event, click on "Terrace Playhouse performers win big at Topper Awards" in the "Related Links" section to the right of this story.
Although the Recreation Career Employee of the Year Award is not officially part of the show, since the lion's share of Hanrahan's work is theater production, the ceremony turned out to be the ideal venue to present the Army-level award.
Those who regularly work with Hanrahan, like Community Recreation Division Chief Richard Martin, reinforce her reputation of putting in extra time and effort into every project -- Martin mentioned several examples, including her working a 14-hour day to make sure a Fourth of July event went off without a hitch and working evenings and weekends during the recent assembly and rehearsal of "Avenue Q."
"That's just typical," said Martin. "She works hard at these special events, whether it's the Globetrotters or the Korn concert, organizing manpower to load in and load out, making sure that the special events packages and the tickets are all taken care of."
Martin said Hanrahan has a good reputation among the partners at USO and Armed Forces Entertainment. If her name is on a project, Martin said they know it's in good hands.
"I wish I could clone her," he added. "She's the go-to person."
Martin said he believes USAG Ansbach MWR consistently gets access to top-quality guests and performers for special events because of Hanrahan's reputation.
"It's mainly because if they come here, they know they'll be treated right, we'll host them right and they'll get the right venue," he said.
"I always enjoy seeing Vikki in action setting up for a concert," Martin added. "She is not afraid to take charge and dole guidance to a willing workforce of employees or volunteers."
It's not only her work with outside organizations like the USO. Martin said she "constantly goes out of her way" to devote her time and talent to USAG Ansbach organizations during their own events.
People throughout garrison encounter her contributions as she directs a performance to add color to a recognition ceremony, awareness event or directorate holiday party; as she provides youth theater training through Child, Youth and School Services as part of their summer camp; or while her flash mob entertains members of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers.
"Partnerships and positive interface with so many community agencies contributes greatly to what Vikki is able to accomplish," said Dan Riley, USAG Ansbach MWR director. "She is very creative and so highly respected as a hands-on, hard-working theater and entertainment manager. Vikki provides such a positive influence on youth and adults participating in live theater."
Hanrahan's experience with drama and theater extends to when she was a child. She still recalls seeing the on-screen version of the musical "Gypsy" for the first time when she was 5 years old. That impression stuck with her through college when, in 1978, she graduated with a degree in drama.
Since 1980, Hanrahan has been working with the Army in Germany, starting out catering and doing entertainment at the Bavarian-American Hotel in the Nuernberg Military Community. Several years later, after having also worked at the military community club, she assumed the role of theater specialist at Nürnberg's Stage 13. When the NMC closed in 1995, she found her way to Ansbach and became the MWR entertainment director -- a job she's been doing for the last 18 years.
"I've been very blessed to get to work for the military for basically the majority of my adult life and career," said Hanrahan.
But it was only a month ago that she received word she'd be receiving the Recreation Career Employee of the Year Award at the Topper ceremony.
"I was blown away," Hanrahan said of the moment she got the news. "That was really awesome. It was quite an honor."
Hanrahan attributes her accomplishment not to the hard work people like Martin and Riley say she puts into her job, but to the love she has for her work, her colleagues and the volunteers she has worked with over the years. For a person always on the move, it might be why she is still in her field after more than 30 years.
"That's what makes it exciting for me -- is to be able to actually do something I was trained for and love, on a daily basis," she said.
Still, she admits her job means working long hours, including evenings and weekends. This is partly because most of her colleagues are volunteers, and she must work the hours when they are available.
This is also partly because stage productions and concerts require long sessions of rehearsals, performances, setting up, tearing down and a fast op tempo.
Hanrahan cited the recent "Avenue Q" production at the Terrace Playhouse that essentially comprised two productions: one version geared toward mature audiences and another aimed at younger audiences.
"We closed that [first one] on a Saturday night and we were in rehearsal Sunday for 10 days to the day we opened, last weekend, of this show," she said. "Also when we're dealing with concerts and things like that, it's just classic that the show comes in, and you're there at 6 in the morning, and you're there until 4 in the morning the next day because that's the way the venue is."
Because the Navy and Air Force do not have a music and theater program like the Army -- and because more music and theater programs are available at installations outside the contiguous U.S. -- being assigned with the Army in Germany gives theatergoers plenty of opportunities to see the full range of entertainment the military offers.
For a few reasons Hanrahan encourages everyone to take advantage of the productions offered at places like the Terrace Playhouse.
For seasoned theatergoers, she said it's nice to have something in English, which isn't always available outside the gates.
"It's a little slice of home," she said.
For potential theatergoers, especially children who may or may not see stage productions in school, Hanrahan said theater is only becoming harder to come by.
"In this day and age, with the cuts in funding to the arts in schools, we even get a lot of adults who've never been to live theater because they weren't exposed to it because it wasn't part of their curriculum in school," said Hanrahan. "We're doing as contemporary material as they're doing in community theaters in the states."
For those who have a hand in theater production, she said it helps develop a better-rounded, more resilient person.
"The performing arts, it's proven -- particularly with kids -- that they do better in school, they are more socially well-rounded. But that's true for adults, also," Hanrahan said. "For readiness and resilience, the entertainment program is just as viable is the sports a program because you're learning skill sets that are going to be worthwhile as life skills and job skills, and also it's a stress reliever. There's stress involved with it, but it's a fun stress, versus a not-fun stress."
This applies to performers, she said, but it also applies to anyone who is part of the production process because that process fosters team-building and esprit de corps just like a volleyball match or a football game.
"There's just something about being part of a creative process," she said. "It's just really amazing. It's just as much team-play and just as much thinking on your feet as sports."
Hanrahan's outlook on the benefits of theater is reflected in one of her favorite mottos and the one she includes in her email signature block: "Theater can be transcendent with the power to change your life."
"I think that's something I've tried to live by -- that I want it to be something that makes a positive impact on an individual, whether they're involved or whether they come to see it," she said.
Her love for theater and music may fuel her desire to work hard and long hours, but when her motivation wavers, Hanrahan falls back on another motto:
"The show must go on."