What I like most about my job as program manager at Mount Baker Theatre is that there are so many components to it. I am responsible for our education program, bookings and rentals for our small spaces (the Walton Theatre and Encore Room) and the Repertory Theatre program. In this article I will focus on my Repertory Theatre responsibilities.
The last two years we have expanded our rep program to self-producing a Broadway-style musical on our main stage. Self-producing shows such as "Into the Woods" (2011) and "My Fair Lady" (2012) means that in addition to the cast, we hire all of the technical staff, including director, designers (lighting, scenic and costume designer) and backstage crew. For the larger productions, all of these are critical.
For our smaller productions, where we typically do more contemporary works, some elements, such as costumes, are of course still important, but might not be as labor-intensive: the characters might be wearing street clothes. This is a much different level of complexity than period costumes, such as those we had for "My Fair Lady."
One of the challenges here is that these critical staff schedule themselves very far out, which means we have to know what our season is a year out, in order to be competitive. So right now we are working on next summer and fall's repertory productions: getting the rights, and finding those key staff members.
Between that and all of the wonderful volunteer support we have, it means a lot of pieces that all have to be thought about and put into some sort of logical order. So the biggest part of my job is to plan a schedule, help everyone involved keep to the schedule, and try to anticipate issues that will affect that schedule.
We are lucky to have a terrific facility, with great staff who understand all the technical aspects and can make those happen. We also have a large, dedicated group of volunteers who make it all possible.
One of the things people might not guess about producing a Broadway-style production is how many of those small pieces play a large role in the overall production. Whether it's finding an actor from Chicago (Jeff Parker, Higgins in "My Fair Lady"), and dealing with all of the attendant logistics, or balancing the differing rehearsal schedule requirements for Actors Equity Association actors, all of these pieces have the capacity to derail parts of the show. Contracting and negotiations are a huge part of a professional production, and can be very complicated.
When we put this program together, we made a conscious choice to use a combination of professional and amateur, local, regional and national actors and designers. This means the logistics can be very challenging. Making sure everyone has transportation to and from Bellingham, and around town when they get here, places to stay, all of those details have to be taken care of.
For "My Fair Lady," I had about 70 people I was responsible for - actors, orchestra and crew. The directing and acting parts of the show are actually some of the more straightforward parts of this huge effort.
Having this mix is terrific for everyone - having Equity actors in the mix definitely raises everyone's performance level; it gives everyone the opportunity to see and work with actors who have succeeded, who have some serious chops and have done some things. And the respect is mutual; Jeff Parker, our lead from Chicago, had nothing but terrific things to say about the entire cast of "My Fair Lady."
It also gives the people who aren't actors - set builders, costume runners, and anyone who loves theater but can't or doesn't want to have it for a job - an opportunity to play at this level, and that's really exciting.
Another of my favorite things about my job is that I get to meet all those people. I'm the kind of person who likes to be in the middle, so being the hub for all these aspects of so many kinds of shows is great fun. So is problem-solving on the fly when things don't happen like they're supposed to. Working with so many people from around the area and the country on these projects - seeing what can be done in 10 days (which is phenomenal) - is a terrific thing to be a part of.
I think it's great when a local organization like Mount Baker Theatre, which has been around for a long time and has a long history of presenting great shows, can now be successful in producing as well. It gives the community something to be proud of. And like everyone at Mount Baker Theatre, I'm proud to be a part of that. I hope you'll come see our Winter Repertory production of Stephen Sondheim's "Company," playing in our Walton Theatre Feb. 19-March 17.
This is the last of a yearlong series looking behind the scenes at Bellingham's Mount Baker Theatre, where Alison C. Terry is program director. Alison received her master of arts in theatre and dance, education and outreach emphasis at University of New Mexico. She stayed there a few years teaching classes and running education programs. She then moved to Tucson and worked at Arizona Theatre Company. She decided she wanted to move closer to her family, who all live in the Pacific Northwest, and that brought her to Bellingham.
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.