Thursday, 06 December 2012 09:15

Wizard of Oz the Pantomime well constructed ... literally

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Medicine Hat Musical Theatre has a solid base with those who make the base, the set, the props, the backdrop ...

Anyone who has enjoyed a Musical Theatre production will almost always say one of the best aspects of the musical is the fact the Musical Theatre Playhouse is such an intimate venue. One feels part of the production.
After all, the Playhouse venue, which is located at 1221 - 10th Ave S.W. in Medicine Hat, looks small from the outside and inside only seats about 200.
The company’s last production was Grease and it was performed in the Esplanade which holds about 700 people.
Besides the sets, the actual Musical Theatre playhouse is a lot bigger than one would think. While the building looks like it ends at the bar, it is actually a large, multi-faceted area.
There is a huge workshop construction area which has numerous work areas, band and table saws, as well as areas to work with metal and electrical wiring. Many remnants and important props and signs of the Theatre’s past productions hang on the walls.
Medicine Hat Musical Theatre president Lawrence Gordon said a lot of behind-the-scenes work is done prior to the actual production of the show.
“Everything is done right here,” explained Gordon who noted they have volunteers who each have a journeyman level in their area speciality whether it be woodworking, electrical, plumbing, or sound.
The youngest guy is 48 and the oldest is 69.
It includes thousands of hours of training and work experience.
“The Loft Crew is a generating factor with a lot of our sets and designs,” added Mike Groth, one of the company’s set experts. “They’re working all the time ... (because of it) we offer the home-like atmosphere.”
Gordon said they literally put thousands of hours into creating sets. There are eight people who rotate in and out from a slightly larger pool of volunteers who help build. It’s a ritual where they work for three hours from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and from Sept. 1 on during the week they go from the time they leave work until 7 p.m.
“It’s fun; we make it fun,” explained Groth who noted they are always looking for more help and more volunteers. They never turn down anyone interested in assisting.
“We’re almost like family here.”
They have their famous “safety meetings” where they discuss ideas, go over what happened that day and talk about what went well and what didn’t.
Upstairs in the loft area, there is of course all of the lighting equipment which both Gordon and Groth say is comparable to the equipment used at the Esplanade, just on a smaller scale. This isn’t surprising considering they get help from Phil Stark, who is the lead theatre technician for the City of Medicine Hat and oversees the technical aspects of the Esplanade. They have powerful LED lighting and new microphones as well. They can even set some of the lights ahead of time using a cell phone.
Gordon noted they estimated the amount of wiring for the 2008 production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show to be about three miles. He says now they are up to about six miles.
“We have an expanded light control board which is almost as powerful as the Esplanade,” said Groth. “We’re constantly improving.”
A major project they are working on now is to create a soundproof recording studio. Gordon is quite excited as construction of that has begun in earnest with the wall frames erected. He credits having someone such as Stark there who can assist in that. They would like to do recordings for the shows.
“One job at a time,” said Gordon. “It gives you a lot of satisfaction.”
Also on the main floor, there are a couple of large dressing room areas; a stove on which to cook snacks and help prepare food for banquets; a washer and  dryer set, a sewing room and a large storage area for props.
Everything is done by volunteer work and they’re fortunate the people who help with the construction are experienced and have many specialities and areas of expertise from which to draw. Gordon said the Theatre is only able to function because of the volunteer efforts put into it.
For example, when it was determined the Playhouse should have a bar, volunteers quickly designed a London-bar style area and laid their own tiles.
It costs $60,000 to keep the Playhouse functioning with insurance, all the electricity costs for sound and lighting, cost for raw materials with the props and other costs. They are trying to become a charitable organization so as to qualify for federal government funding, but that’s still coming.
Medicine Hat Musical Theatre began in earnest in 1960. It’s a non-profit society managed by an 18-member volunteer board.
Soon, the set crew will have new challenges as the upcoming productions include True West in February 2013 and Monty Python’s Spamalot which is set in 932 A.D.

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Ryan Dahlman

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