Sneak Peek Backstage At BLT's "Rocky Horror Show"

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by Eric Dickman

Have you ever wondered what happens backstage at a theatre?

Well, you won’t find that out here.

However, you will find out what happens BEFORE there is a backstage.

Burien Little Theatre is getting ready to open “The Rocky Horror Show” (September 26 through November 2 – tickets can be purchased here), and I am the Production Manager.  What that means is that I am the interface between everybody involved in the show and Burien Little Theatre, which is the producer of the show.

Before I explain what that means, let me say a little about how I got here.

Three seasons ago I was one of the people that helped revitalize Burien Little Theatre. After one of our shows from that first season, a group of us volunteers were sitting at The Mark Restaurant (from the beginning, The Mark has been a great supporter). The casts and crews can often be found in the bar there after a show (we often take over the dining room, too).

It was near closing, and we were talking about possible shows to produce in future seasons. The beer was flowing. One of our tech volunteers, a 23-year old, said, “Why don’t you do Rocky Horror?” We loved the idea.

It took a couple of seasons before we could afford the show (this is our biggest budget show, to date). In the interim, we found an actor who we loved for Frankenfurter, and a music director who loved the show. By last January, we were ready to commit to Rocky.

My job started as soon as we officially decided to do the show. That means in January I secured the rights to do the show and started to line up possible directors and designers. The director develops a vision for the show, and the designers execute that vision, with their special additions. I was also smart enough to tag Maggie Larrick, a production manager par exellence to help me out.

'The Rocky Horror Show' starts Sept. 26th at Burien Little Theatre.Quickly we found a director, Steve Cooper. Burien Little Theatre fans may remember his directorial work from “Waiting for Mr. Green,” “Dracula” and “Mrs. Bob Cratchet’s Wild Christmas Binge.” Steve is great to work with and quickly the show started to take shape, at least in Steve’s mind.

Next, certainly as important if not more so, we found a Stage Manager. Stage Managers run the cast and once the show opens, all key decisions about the running of the show are in the stage manager’s hands. Steve cornered Michelle Rodriguez. Michelle has worked with us before, and she is dream come true.

With Steve and Michelle in place, and knowing this was a big show, I immediately went to the well. In just weeks I had a set designer, Nathan Rodda. Nathan is the in-house set designer for The Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Nathan had done the set for “Dracula.” I knew he was perfect for this show.

Next, came a Lighting Designer. I designed lights for over 30 years, so I have a weak spot for lighting. I needed someone very good, or I would cringe as I watched the show (the curse of having designed lights is that a perfectly good show can be ruined by a misplaced light or bad cue).

Before long, we lined up Dave Baldwin. Dave can do more with a few lights than anyone I know. He worked for years at Intiman. More importantly, he is a gem to work with. No one is better. If you saw “Dracula” or “Lysistrata,” you have seen, and likely loved, Dave’s work.

I was on a roll. Next, the Music Director. I got the guy I wanted. Cool. We needed a Choreographer, Prop Master and a few others, but I had my core in place. We could start working on the show.

What do I do with all these talented people? As Production Manager, my job is to find these people, propose a budget to the Trustees of the theater, which hopefully is passed, and work out the logistics to make the show happen. Thank goodness I have lots of help with the logistics.

Theater at any level is about its budget. At Burien Little Theatre, everyone is a volunteer. We put in hundreds of hours of work a month. Designers, actors and the band each get a small stipend, but that does not even cover the cost of gas for six weeks of rehearsal and six weekends of performances. The rest of us don’t get a stipend. We do it for the love of the theater. Nevertheless, we spend thousands of dollars to put on a show.  Wood, paint, props, fabric for costumes, shoes, make-up, and jells for lights all cost more and more every show. That is why we look to donors, business sponsors and others to support us.

Over the next five months we worked on the show. Ideas were everywhere. Some of them were better than others and some were even possible. The show was on its way. We lined up Shari Barr as our Costumer. She costumed most of all last season, and she had just finished costuming a movie. Our timing was impeccable.

We decided to get some elected officials involved in the show. I started with a visit to the City Council. Kathy Keene was the only one to agree. But who else? The stars lined up. Before long I had City and State officials together with one U.S. Congressman to be a narrator-for-a-night.

Next came auditions. Every show needs a cast.

We had fantastic people come to audition. I sometimes wonder what I add to the audition process, but I would not miss it. It is a thrill to see so many great actors come and give us a glimpse of their talent. We had to turn away at least another full cast of excellent actors.

Steve has a gift for seeing what role each person fits the best. In my next life, I am asking for that gift.

Eric Dickman is VP of Burien Little Theatre, as well as Production Manager of 'The Rocky Horror Show.' As evidenced by this photo, Eric will do anything to sell tickets.The actor we dreamed of for Frankenfurter came to the audition. He blew us away. He had already memorized the songs. When he sang…well he was “Frank.” He also had his own wild costumes (don’t ask).

We were rolling. Then the sky opened.

First, the night before rehearsals, our Music Director had a personal emergency, and had to drop out. When it comes to a musical, a Music Director, is, well, important.

I was on the phone, as was everyone else involved with the show. The scramble was on. There is a reason why the Production Manager lines up people early. The closer to the show, the harder people are to find.

Next it was “Frank.” He got a promotion at his day job. Great. But that meant he was transferred to San Francisco. Not so great.

Again the scramble was on. If we were honest with each other, Steve, Michelle, Maggie and I would have said we were worried. But no one blinked.

Meanwhile, rehearsals were fully underway. Steve was working the cast. Without a Music Director, we turned to the cast. Luckily, this cast is amazing. They stepped up to the plate and started acting as their own music director. Many casts would not have been up to this challenge (thank you cast).

Around moving the show forward, we searched for a “Frank” and a Music Director. The cast found us a “Frank.” Wow. He fit the bill and more.

We set a date. If we did not have a Music Director by then, we were going without one.

When we could see the opening night date on the horizon, along came Ann Sager (Ann is a friend of Nathan’s). Her day job was Choral Director for a church. We held our breath. Had she seen Rocky (not exactly church music)?

She showed up on a Monday, and sight-read the score for the rehearsal. We were all in love. She was just what we needed. But what about her? After rehearsal she admitted she watched the DVD the night before. Pause. Nervous looks between all of us. Pause. Then Ann said she had costume pieces that would look great on stage.

By the time the whole band showed up to work with the cast, Ann was pounding the 88s, standing and swinging her hair.  Rocky’s devil music had her.

Now, John Flynn, our gifted Set Builder is building the set. We are locating or building props and getting sound effects together, the cast is on the verge of a full run though. Ann needs a synthesizer, but hey, the show looks and sounds great! Hopefully, there will be no more than the usual problems before we get to where we have a backstage to worry about.

The Rocky Horror Show” opens Sept. 26th and plays through Nov. 2nd at Burien Little Theatre.

Tickets can be purchased online here.

Eric Dickman serves as Vice President of Burien Little Theatre as well as Production Manager for “The Rocky Horror Show.” In his real life, he works as a personal injury lawyer.

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