PUTTING OUT “FIRES”
Two things the director of a community theater production learns to expect: dealing with crowd control and putting out fires.
The crowd control comes with wanting to include as many people as is logistically possible in almost every production, especially if you are performing a show that includes actors from eight to eighty. Pocono Lively Arts started life as a presenting organization and tried our first musical after a couple of years of concerts. The musical immediately became an annual holiday event. The holiday shows we performed were family friendly: SCROOGE, ALICE, BABES IN TOYLAND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, HEIDI, to name a few. After ten years we added a summer show with more adult content: shows such as 1776, CAMELOT, OF THEE I SING, OKLAHOMA!, THE SECRET GARDEN, THE FANTASTICKS.
Putting out fires: anything from having to replace an actor to finding a new costume mistress to tracking down a hard-to-find prop to dealing with a flu bug striking down Munchkinland. One major fire: for one summer production that was a huge period show (hint: the guys were in tights and tunics), we had a costume mistress who had measured the cast and sent the list to the costume company we were using for rentals. Two weeks before the costumes were to arrive I called this person to touch base about accepting the costumes and having fittings. She was out of town. WAY out of town, and no one seemed to know when she’d be back. Yikes. Fortunately, I appealed to a woman who had helped with high school productions, and she was kind enough to take on the formidable task of getting our actors dressed for the show. That terrific lady was our costumer from that point on until she moved to Ohio, where she and her husband continue to work in theater.
And then there was the “fire” with my sound tech for several years. A terrific young man, who shall remain anonymous in this blog, but the son of a very close friend. At the time he was in high school and had developed a passion for playing paint ball. The show was THE SONG OF NORWAY, and at that time we were performing four shows over one weekend: Friday evening, Saturday matinee and evening, Sunday matinee. The Friday performance went wonderfully (though some of my friends in the cast really didn’t care for the show and referred to it as THE SONG OF SNOREWAY ... beautiful music by Edvard Grieg, lame script). Nice show for our kids, though ... they wore traditional Norwegian holiday dress and sang Norwegian carols in the lobby at intermission. And some of them had speaking roles! One plus: we all learned something about Norway. I like shows like that.
I digress. Saturday matinee rolls around, and no sound tech. I called his house and asked his mother if he was on his way (I like having my techs in the theater an hour before curtain). He’d gone to a neighboring town ... a good hour’s drive ... to play paint ball. Fifteen minutes before curtain, still no sign. Now I am more worried than annoyed; the road is winding and could be treacherous. Five minutes before curtain, the director is getting frantic instructions as to how to operate the soundboard .... something she’s never, ever done before, and the first number in the show is a huge trio. Somehow I managed to avoid feedback and maintain some semblance of balance (these people were singers; the tenor is a member of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus today). MIA sound tech finally appears, white as a sheet, and takes over from an eternally grateful director, who is very happy to see he is in one piece and apparently unscathed.
It seems he had been taken by bus to the paint ball battle site and was unable to get back to his car in order to leave until the entire event was completed and everybody was returned by bus to the parking lot. It was too far for him to try to walk. This was in the days before cell phones, dear friends, so he had no way of contacting us. I was so relieved to see him I couldn’t say too much. I was very glad my fifteen minutes of soundboard duty ended well. What the conversation was when he got home I have no idea. By the way, this young man is a success story today: works for a major acoustical engineering firm out West and has his own photography studio.
That "anonymous" young sound tech grew up to be Andrew Kowalyshyn, and he's given me permission to use his name and this wonderful photo from his studio, AK Photography, in Denver, Colorado.
Here's the link: check him out!