Bryan J. Albertson
“Tim the Toolman Taylor”, MacGyver, Mina Starsiak, and Karen E. Laine, what do they all have in common? They build or repair things. What does this have to do with theater? He or she is somebody every theater group and in particular, a stage or tech crew needs. Let’s face it, nothing ever goes exactly how it is planned or thought out. Props break at the last minute or something, somewhere, needs to be fabricated and nobody except one person seems to have any idea about where to find/buy it or repair it. This is where the “everyman or everywoman” finds their “moment in the spotlight”.
I’ll call them stage crews because that is where I got my background and that is what we called them. Also noted is that this article isn’t a knock on the cast of any production, they work hard, and they face obstacles of a different type. They also get to hear the roar of the applause when a show is over. They are the ones who are asked to come out and talk to groups about the interpretation of the show or why they did this that way or why they should do that this way. No, the cast and director are the other part of the show, just as valuable in their way. This is about the crew and the stage manager and that one person, without whom the cast, crew, or director would be lost.
The person we are looking at is the one who for some unknown reason has the ability to repair a tear in a costume using tape, rope, glue, or the conventional thread. When finished everybody asks, “I thought he/she was construction worker, how did they learn how to fix a bra-strap using paper clips and Elmer’s glue?” Of course, the question is never answered and the fact that the day was saved is usually forgotten as soon as the curtain goes up or the lights go on.
Speaking of lights, nobody knew that on top of being an elementary school teacher by day that crew member also knows how to not only hang lights and speakers but also knows how to rewire the entire grid surrounding your light bars the night before a show when all hope looked lost. They just spent five hours by-passing a short so that one all-important spotlight could work for a two-minute monologue or solo. He or she is also the one who, when the old “follow spot” finally gives out (you know, the one that has been on its last leg for ten years yet despite pleas has been forgotten about until the night before the opening) manages to fashion one out of a camera tripod and duct tape.
When you needed a sound bite five minutes before opening this is the person who found it on some obscure website or for some reason had just that noise stored on their phone and heard you needed it. This all important contributor is also the one who noticed that the star of your show is sitting in the corner of the theater in tears and ready to quit after the director really let them have it about not getting the lines exactly right or not have the right energy for a scene. They are the one who brought out a cup of coffee or glass of water and said, “I thought it was pretty good but if you just relax a bit more you would nail it.” “Do it again but try this.”
When the show has finally completed its run, and everybody is both relieved and a bit sad that things are finished this person is often forgotten. The audience never knew the story behind it because everything worked just right and there were no hang-ups. The cast is lost in their celebration and reminiscing about just how good things were. It is usually the director if anybody at all that remembers just how bad things could have gone. It is also usually the director that mentions to the stage manager that “you’re going to need somebody good with wiring etc.” They may not remember the name but a quick “I forgot his/her name, but they were really short/tall, quiet/loud, whatever and they were the only one who knew how to get that light to work just right. As you interview people for the crew make sure somebody asks “can anybody sew, rewire, or fashion a prop out of straws, glue, and boa feathers at the last minute? Basically, somebody who can do anything we can or can’t think of right now.” You know, the “everyman/woman.