Saturday, July 2, 2016

Playmakers Backstage

Keeping the show going is the job of the actors on stage, of course, but there's a lot going on backstage as well. Here is some information about the folks behind the scenes (literally behind the scenery) at Playmakers across the years. 

A 1958 look backstage. Click on image to enlarge.

Below is an article about the backstage activity that makes a Playmaker's production possible, with a focus on the carpenters and set builders. Click on the images to make them bigger. The original article appeared on November 27, 1972, in the Covington Daily News.

Text from the article above:

Playmakers Backstage By Ron Barthet

Covington Daily News November 27, 1972

COVINGTON — It takes considerable coordination to put a show on the stage at Playmaker's, and not the least of this coordination involves the people backstage responsible for makeup and set construction.

The latest Playmaker's Production, "Forty Carats," opens next Thursday night with a set designed by architect Arthur Middleton and built by Roland Galloway and Bob Milling. Galloway, who has been "grounded" the past few days with an injured back, is in charge of getting the walls on stage to
stand up, keep standing up, and to keep the doors from sticking. But his job as set building gets far more complicated than that.

Following the designs of Middleton, Galloway and Milling have to translate into physical reality the ideas of what the set should look like. This involves just making the set look real, however, without going to the trouble of building the real thing. Real walls and real doors would make the stage too heavy, Galloway said, so the set builders have to make the walls out of stretched cloth and paint it with wallpaper paste to stiffen it up.

If the stage got too heavy, it would be too hard to revolve, and if the backstage hands were unable to revolve the large turntable that the set sits upon, the Playmakers' would be limited in their variety of backgrounds.

In any event, it's quite a job. "The work that has to go into this thing is incredible," Galloway said of the production. "Without those behind the scenes people in make-up and set design, even the fellow who pulls the curtain, the show couldn't go on. Each one is like a cog in a big wheel and each one is needed to get the job done."

"None of us get paid," he added, "you just have to enjoy doing it. It takes a lot to get out there and work almost every night, but it's all worth it in the end."

Galloway had been attending Playmaker productions for several years and never thought about working with the group until a friend of his, Dick Tudor, asked if he wanted to be in "The Music Man." From a small part in "Music Man" he found himself helping out in virtually all phases of production from lights to building the sets.

It was this handiness in several fields that prompted Troy Jackson, president of the Playmakers, to ask Galloway to construct the set for "Forty Carats." 

"I'm the kind of person who's good to lend a hand in almost everything," Galloway said. "There's a lot of people who would come out and work with the Playmakers if only they were asked. That's what happened to me."

He said that the production crew was a very congenial group of people, and that in his two or three years with the group he has seen someone mad only once or twice, "and that's quite a record considering that sometimes up to 50 or 60 people work together on one production."

On set production, Galloway said all it takes is a little imagination and the ability to drive a nail straight. It's really a creative effort, he added, and it helps to have a desire to see a job well done. One develops a certain sense about doing things right, he said, whether in his regular work or volunteer work such as that with Playmakers.

Sets are challenging, however, because they have to be good enough to avoid bad distracting comments, but they can't be so good as to distract from the action," Galloway said. The set can't take attention away from the actors either one way or the other. We can't have the audience commenting on how perfect and beautiful the set is while their attention is supposed to be focused on the actors, but we also can't have them commenting on how bad it is. The best set is one which looks real, but remains unobtrusive."

He said he's a relative newcomer in the field, having been familiar with the stage for about two years. "I'll never learn all there is to learn," he said. "It's one of those fields that the more you know, the more you know what you don't know."

It's quite an organization, he points out. He and Milling build the set, the painters come in and paint it to look real, the props people bring in the furniture and various props to fill in the picture and the lighting crew illuminates the whole thing to make sure it looks absolutely inconspicuous. 

The cooperation among members is great.

Then after a play is finished, the stage crew tears apart the whole thing and stores it away for future use. Nothing is thrown way, and very seldom is something purchased. The main problem now is that the stage crew is running out of room to store material. They have one complete side storeroom filled with fake doors, windows and walls, and quite a stack of material is piling up outside the Playmaker's barn. Galloway hopes that plans for a new theater are carried to completion soon so the old barn can be used solely for storage.

In any event, stage construction has proved to be one of the more challenging jobs for Galloway, a job he nevertheless enjoys. His spirit is typical of the enthusiasm shown by the 1000 member non-profit organization known as Playmaker's, however.

The Old Original Playmakers Barn

In a 1988 article in the TImes Picayune, it was noted that Playmakers was one of the nation's oldest all-amateur community theaters. "Their task is to put on the best entertainment they can for their community," the article stated. "And, if the regularly sold out houses and long show runs are any indication, they have done just that."

"Though the theater never fails to entertain the faithful Covington audience, it has another, equally important function: to allow theater-prone residents a place to channel their creative energies.

"This gives people something to do, as opposed to sitting down and watching television every night," said Ray Perer. "And it gives you so much satisfaction. You feel like you've really accomplished something when it's done."

But what's the main reason people get involved? "Well, there's the applause, of course. It gives you a warm feeling. It's kind of an ego trip, I guess. But the theater is something that, if you get hooked into it, you love it forever, and you're willing to perform anywhere," Perer stated. 

Those interested in getting involved in the theater should be put off because they can't act or sing, the article noted. "The theater needs volunteers in the box office, building sets, handling props and working lights."

"We have a lot of activities and duties and always need volunteers," Perer said. "We have no stars. We only have enthusiastic people who love what they are doing and have a great time doing it. It doesn't matter whether you're working in the light booth, or have the lead in the play, either way, you're a part and what's what matters."

April 14, 1977, Cleaning Up Debris