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This week our spotlight shines bright on the unsung heroes, magic makers, creators, and craftspeople of our theatrical productions - our technical crew! This behind-the-scenes team works tirelessly to create the magic that you see on stage. Immersing patrons in productions without audiences ever knowing that they were there is their speciality.
Catch a first-hand glimpse of the wizardry that you rarely see by enjoying videos, photos and profiles that feature our beloved technical crew members and their work!
Great Lakes Theater's Esther Haberlen and Leah Loar share a technique to create faux knitted chain mail armor. Sneak a peek at how our Costume Shop was able to create many new pieces using this technique - all from home during social distancing!
Get an inside look into how our crew creates onstage magic. These time-lapse videos are a fun way to see how our technical team handles changeovers for our Fall Repertory, pre-show set-ups, and load-ins of sets from our shop to our stage!
Let's delve a bit into a few of the individuals who make up our amazing technical crew. Learn who they are, what they do, and how they arrived at their current role. Plus, enjoy bonus fun from GLT's Costume Director, Esther Haberlen, with a glimpse into her home projects that really show what a magnificent maker she truly is!
"I am the Company Manager for Great Lakes Theater (GLT) and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (LTSF), and I am still a Production Assistant (PM) and Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) from time to time. As Company Manager, I have many different duties. The main part is that I am in charge of all travel and housing for anyone coming in from out of town. This includes acting company, designers, production staff, and directors. I book airline travel, arrange rental cars, book hotel rooms, work with a corporate housing provider, and arrange airport drop offs and pick ups. I handle a lot of small details to help manage the company - I make everyone’s ID badges, I sit in on all production meetings, I fulfill company complementary ticket requests for every show, I am in charge of our company cars, I make welcome packets and bags for actors that are coming from out of town, I handle shipping actor boxes back to their homes at the end of contracts, I help with opening night events, tech dinners, and welcome brunches. I work with the Production Manager and Assistant Production Manager on calendars and paperwork. In the summer, I travel out to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival where I am also the Company Manager and work very closely with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Company Manager to help prep for our summer seasons. I am basically always on call - if something goes wrong with housing, travel, or a car issue I’m around to help fix the problem. My favorite thing about my position is that every day is different."
What was your first position with our company(s) and what duties did that entail?
"I was a Production Assistant (PA) for The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Child Supervisor for Les Miserables during the 2014 Fall Repertory.
As a PA, I worked directly under the Stage Manager (SM) and Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) to assist throughout prep, rehearsals, production meetings, tech, and was at every performance. During performances, I did all the food prep, made sure all props and scenic elements were where they needed to be, helped with scene shifts, made sure actors were where they needed to be, and was in constant communication with the SM and ASM.
As the Child Supervisor, I was in charge of our Young Company, those aged 8-12. I would meet them and their parents before every rehearsal or performance and get them signed in and ready for the show. I would help get them into their mics and costumes, then walk them to the stage in time for every entrance."
What is your favorite thing about working with Great Lakes Theater?
"The people. This company along with its sister companies are like a huge family. You are constantly meeting new and interesting people from all over the country. You walk into the offices or to rehearsal or to a performance and you instantly feel like you are 'home.' This company gives you the ability to forge lifelong relationships and give you memories that you will never forget."
Do you have any fun backstage stories?
"There are so many! I think my favorite thing about being backstage during a show is there is a secondary show going on backstage. It’s like a dance. When certain things happen onstage, other things are happening behind the scenes, such as a costume change, moving a scenic element into place, a prop hand off. It’s a well oiled machine that happens every time. It’s also a joy to be backstage watching a show from the wings. You get to see everything unfold from a different perspective than what the audience gets to see. It also gives you a chance to bond with the acting company and other crew members. One of my first memories is eating the prop popcorn backstage with Laura Welsh Berg during The Merry Wives of Windsor and now she is one of my dearest friends."
What are you looking forward to most when we are able to return to doing in-person productions?
"That first day back when everyone is in the rehearsal hall - getting to see everyone’s smiles and being able to hug the people you care about, and knowing you are all back doing what you love. It’s going to be a very emotional moment for everyone, but it will also be full of magic."
"As Great Lakes Theater's Costume Director, I love the glamour of the theater and the creative use of materials to make magic on stage. What I’ve always known deep in my heart, and has become more apparent over the last six months, is that I’m fundamentally a 'maker.' I’m positively driven to create, even when the world is upside down. Ever since childhood I was designing - first dollhouse furniture, accessories and clothing - and then with more practice I stared sewing (Fabric Engineering as I call it!) for myself and other humans.
So while we are on hiatus and I’m not facilitating or directly designing costume looks for multiple actors and shows, I have had more creative energy for personal passions. These include, but are not limited to, upcycling and restoring thrifted and trash picked furniture, urban homesteading, quilting, dressmaking, tailoring and crafting costumes and props as a newbie burlesque performer."
"It has taken a lifetime to assemble my tools and materials in my mini 'shop' and it gives me a lot of joy to be in there, to develop an idea, and then bring it to fruition. I was taught by my father that when you take care of your tools, they take care of you - and they have - allowing me to ply my craft. I humbly suggest to build your toolkit thoughtfully - buying the best you can afford and maintaining and cleaning them well after each use. I also cannot stress enough the importance of proper paint prep! Sandpaper and steel wool are essential to getting a good looking result when painting just as proper ironing and interfacing make a professional looking garment. As Cat Stevens says, “take your time, think a lot,“ and enjoy creating!
I hope you enjoyed looking into my studio. I know I have immense privilege to have a home and job that allows me to do what I love. The theater is truly my second home and I miss being there with my family, the crew, actors, directors, and all the patrons. I hope we can all be together creating magic soon and telling exciting stories with humor, love, empathy, and compassion to all."
"I currently work with both Great Lakes Theater (GLT) and Idaho Shakespeare Festival (ISF) as a Stage Manager (SM) or Assistant Stage Manager (ASM), depending on the production.
As an ASM, it is my job to run backstage. I am in the wings with the actors and the crew - and am in constant communication with the Stage Manager in the booth. As a Stage Manager, the duties are seemingly endless. The job begins before rehearsals even start when I work on preproduction paperwork, script, designs, and Actors' Equity Association (the union for actors and stage managers) business well before the company is ever brought together. In rehearsals, it is the Stage Manager's job to keep the room running smoothly. The Stage Manager really gets to the meat of the job during tech.
Tech rehearsals are when the technical elements are added to the show. As each light cue, sound cue, and special effects cue is added, the Stage Manager has to write them in a call script, at the moment that those cues will happen. From the moment the mic goes up for the curtain speech, the Stage Manager is calling every light cue, sound cue, actor entrance, and special effects cue until the house lights come on after curtain call. It takes time and practice to be able to smoothly call a show from beginning to end. Once a show opens and we have daily performances, I first check to make sure the crew arrives, the actors arrive, announcements are given, and then I check on each person - crew and acting company. I provide the company calls at half-hour until curtain, 15 minutes until curtain, five minutes, and places. I also work closely with House Management for the top of the show and the curtain speech. I call the show and work through any oddities with the ASM. If there is something unexpected that happens (ie. bad weather at ISF, a medical emergency in the house or on stage, etc.) it is the job of the Stage Manager to call a hold on the show. It is my responsibility to communicate with the audience, the company, and House Management about the situation, what they can expect, and how we are moving forward. That is one of the hardest parts of the job. At the end of every day of rehearsal or a performance, the Stage Manager writes a production report. This report details everything about that day of work and is sent to the administrative staff, production departments, designers and Director.
My favorite thing about stage managing is watching live the culmination of so many artists' work come together to create a beautiful piece of art every night. I get the unique opportunity to not only see the actors' performances, but to see each light cue, hear every sound cue, look at every fog moment, every costume and wig. I get to see the crew execute their deck moves and the spotlight operators follow their characters. I am honored to be acutely aware of each tiny piece that came together to form each performance that is as unique as a snowflake."
How did you came to work with our company(s)?
"In high school, I accidentally stumbled into theater when I auditioned for the chorus of Sound of Music. I thought a chorus just meant a choir that sings Do-Re-Mi in the background. When I did not make the cast (because I didn't know they expected me to act), they assigned me to the costume crew, and I was immediately hooked. By age 15, I knew I wanted to be a Stage Manager. I spent the rest of high school stage managing as many shows as they would allow.
However, after a theater trip to London, where they took us on a backstage tour of Woman in Black, I saw the Stage Manager's desk who had been there for 15 years doing the same show every night. I got scared by the notion that a Stage Manager does the same thing every single day for years. I made the decision to switch my focus to get my BFA in Radio, TV, and Film from the University of North Texas. I would work to become an Assistant Director - which is as close to stage managing as you can get in the film world. After college, I moved to Los Angeles and worked on many student film sets. I didn't make any money, but the education and experience were priceless. After my stint in LA, I moved home to Texas to be with family and began working as a Photographer/Videographer. I started my own company and shot weddings, events, and portraits while also working as a nanny.
After a few years, life happened and I needed a big change. My then-boyfriend (now husband), Nick Steen, had worked with Great Lakes Theater and Idaho Shakespeare Festival previously and was slated to be in the shows at ISF that summer. Remembering how much I had l loved theater, I applied to be a Production Assistant. At the time there were no openings, so when a House Manager job became available, I was very eager to interview."
What was your first position with our company(s)?
"My first position was as a House Manager at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. I will say, that job has proven to be invaluable. I loved being in front of the house. I spent each night interacting with the audience and shared in their excitement as we brought them into the theater. Now, years later, as a Stage Manager, knowing the hurdles and difficulties that House Management has to deal with has made it much easier to communicate and work with the front of house to put on productions."
What was your journey to your current position?
"After working a summer as a House Manager, I was able to work as the Production Assistant (PA) for Hamlet at Great Lakes Theater (GLT). I was immediately hooked and soaked up as much information from the SM as I could. I asked to work as many shows as possible. That summer at Idaho Shakespeare Festival (ISF), I was the PA on three out of four of the shows. I even had to be costumed and run onstage as a little French boy in the The Hunchback of Notre Dame. During that Fall Rep at GLT, I decided I wanted to work toward my union status. The main difference between a Production Assistant and an Assistant Stage Manager is being in the union. I kept working until I had earned enough weeks to qualify to join Actors' Equity Association.
My first show as the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) was Misery. And I worked as an ASM after that as much as they would let me! I truly love working backstage. Being an ASM is a fantastic, fun, and exciting job that I never get tired of doing. However, I knew I ultimately wanted to stage manage as well, so when we had a couple of stage management positions open, I applied and was not promoted. After licking my wounds, I decided I needed to learn more about the job. Since I was not contracted to work The Taming of the Shrew that spring at GLT, I flew back to Cleveland so that I could watch the Stage Manager run tech. I had never been able to just sit at the tech table and see/hear what exactly went on in the house. I took copious notes, asked too many questions, and made sure I learned everything I could on that trip. I also took the time to go backstage and to ask Tommy, an IATSE Stagehand, to teach me everything he could about the fly system in the Hanna Theatre. Then asked Chris Guy, another IATSE Stagehand, to take me into the catwalk and tell me everything about the lights and grid. I wanted to know as much as I could so that I could set myself up in the best way possible to one day stage manage. The next step was being able to learn the show and call a few shows of Witness for the Prosecution at ISF.
And then last summer, I finally got the opportunity! My first show as the Stage Manager was Julius Caesar at ISF."
What was the most challenging thing you’ve encountered in your various positions with GLT?
"One of the most challenging things I've encountered was taking on Caesar as a Stage Manager (SM). I started as the Assistant Stage Manager on that show, and one week before we went into tech, I was bumped up to the Stage Manager position. It was an honor, but it was also terrifying. I had to learn so much so quickly and also play catch up while taking care of an entire company of people who were also going through the transition with me. Thankfully, Sara Bruner, Director of Julius Caesar, and Charlie Fee, Producing Artistic Director, flew in a seasoned SM to mentor me through the process, help bolster my confidence, and answer any questions throughout the tech process. (And trust me, there were A LOT of questions.) I had an incredible tribe of professional family around me and I have never been more thankful for the challenge and the help.
However, I think what was even more challenging than that, was taking over GLT's A Christmas Carol (ACC) last year. That show is a beast of its own kind. I had only worked it one year before as a run crew member and had never seen it from the house. I had also never been in that rehearsal room. Entering into the very truncated rehearsal process, I was pretty intimidated. The thing about ACC is that it has a long, deeply entrenched history. There are customs, expectations, and traditions that have to be upheld from year to year. So not only was learning those challenging, but executing them was imperative. It was a ton of pressure. Not to mention, the show is incredibly intricate, fast and at times dangerous. There are moments of dropping people through the stage, stilt walking, children running, huge heavy set pieces flying and spinning all under my watch and timing. The amount of people backstage is more than any other show we ever do in a year and the coordination of each element has to be precise. I mean stopwatch, to the tenth of a second precise. I think I finally didn't feel like I was going to pass out at intermission about two weeks into the run. But I did it! And I didn't kill anyone! And nobody killed me! So that was a win."
Do you have any fun backstage stories?
"It's really difficult to answer this question because fun backstage stories are endless. Every show brings about little traditions and jokes that run throughout time. I think one of the best examples of what doing a show with Great Lakes Theater is all about would be last year's A Christmas Carol. We had a little girl from the A Special Wish Foundation whose wish was to be an actor. She used a wheelchair and was going to be in our street scenes with her mom. We rehearsed with them during tech briefly, but when the night came for her performance, everyone was so excited. Our wardrobe department built her her very own beautiful dress. They also made a matching dress for a teddy bear that they gave her to carry and keep. Our props department put together pretty garland to decorate her wheelchair. Our Scrooge and Bob Cratchit gave up their entire dressing room for the performance so that she could have the full star treatment, with the big mirror and lights, and so she could have easy access to the stage. Each of the children in the company took turns throughout the show going to her room to visit her and bring gifts, and during the curtain call, our entire crew stood in the wings watching and applauding for her. I cried as I called the last cues to bring in the curtain. It was such a moving experience to share with her and with each other. I'll never forget that night."
What is your favorite thing about working with GLT?
"The combination of professionalism and family that exists within the company. It didn't take long before I felt like part of a family when I came to work. But even though there is real love and care between everyone, there is also a very significant amount of respect for each person and their work. It's an amazing thing that I can work daily with my husband and our best friends, getting the jobs done right, doing the hard things well - and also being able to share our personal lives and free time."
What are you looking forward to most when we are able to return to doing in-person productions?
"Everything. Every. Single. Thing. I can not wait to be in the rehearsal room. To hear my friends speak beautiful texts. To listen to Charlie direct. To laugh and to cry at the incredible moments, both scripted and not. I am so excited to be in the Hanna. The smells and the sounds. To walk backstage and see Tommy and Chris! I can't wait to be hunkered down in the dark theater for 12-hour tech days. Covered in haze and listening to designers work. The first night with an audience is going to be so emotional. I get teary-eyed imagining it. The appreciation that will come from the house to the stage and the stage back to the house simultaneously is going to be nothing short of magical. When we get to connect and tell stories and share emotions and experiences again. Without a screen. I think the theater will be needed in a way that it hasn't been in a long time. By the theater artists and the audience. I can. not. wait."
A seven-week series highlighting everything you love about Great Lakes Theater!
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