Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009

Skylight 50th Anniversary Season Open House--pt.1

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Noel and the Plant

My wife and I arrived at the Broadway Theatre Center and promptly spotted a woman named Noel standing next to a large potted plant. It was the Skylight Opera’s open house.  The Skylight has been around for 50 years. It opened its doors last night to celebrate the occasion. Noel was a rather short woman in a red dress standing next to a rather large potted plant. Noel is the Company Administrator for the Skylight had previously served a similar role for the late Milwaukee Shakespeare. Since Milwaukee Shakes passed on and passed some of its office personnel to the Skylight, public functions for the Skylight have the charming kind of personality a Milwaukee Shakes opening used to have and Noel is a part of that. She introduced us to the plant. My wife shook its tongue. My wife and I were asked to have our picture taken with the plant. We did. Shortly before ushering us to the first part of the backstage tour, Noel asked the plant if it needed any water. The plant had appeared in a Skylight production of Little Shop of Horrors from a few seasons back. Nice to see it getting a little more work . . .

The Scene Shop

My wife and I proceeded to the scene shop, where I promptly ran into a slightly tall, thin woman who was texting. It was Jessie--a woman who works in wardrobe  at the theatre who I met in college. We met while ushering as undergrads in the UWM studio theatre. She told me about her most recent work with the Milwaukee Chamber production of Around the World in 80 Days--a production that involved a bewildering number of costume changes. Jessie was  pleased to have a intern working with her. it sounded like that was a first for her. Jessie went off to resume texting and my wife and I listened as a guy in the shop talked about what it was like to build sets for the Skylight. If I heard correctly, that one scene shop—which, I might add, is relatively small—has recently become responsible for building all the sets used by both the Skylight and Milwaukee Chamber--an undertaking which had seen the gentleman in question racking-up quite a few hours in the shop. The scene shop looked pretty much like one might expect: lots of exposed brick and the occasional bit lying around from the last production. I distinctly recognized part of an orbit map-like detail from one of the walls in Around The World in 80 Days--a project that was a lot of work for the scene shop guy. If I’m not mistaken, he also said it was one of his favorite shows they’ve ever done, but I guess that makes sense. . .

The Stage

Having seen quite a few shows at the main stage of the Broadway Theatre Center, it was quite an experience being able to walk out onstage. Long before writing about theatre for print, I used to have a problem seeing live shows—I’d always be distracted by the blocking. It didn’t matter how professional the production was, I’d always be distracted by how unnatural the blocking looked to me. This was a hang-up that faded out as I started getting paid to write about theatre, but every now and then, I’m reminded of how much imagined depth there is onstage.

The experience of being onstage at the Broadway Theatre Center was strange. Being in the audience. Just a few weeks ago, I’d seen the stage quite tastefully represent a good portion of the world. And though I think of that sage as being one of the bigger ones in the city, it felt so small actually being up there. Part of the magic in any theatrical production is expanding something that feels like it’s the size of a closet and making it feel like it’s larger than a stadium. I always get more respect for what goes on onstage by actually being there.

Next: The Basement, Prop and Costume Shops and a crowd riddled with local actors.

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