Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009

Skylight 50th Anniversary Season Open House--pt.2

By Russ Bickerstaff
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My wife and I arrived at the Broadway Theatre Center for the Skylight Opera’s season-opening open house. After a quick stroll through the scene shop and the stage area, we were on to the basement.

The Basement

The area beneath the Broadway Theatre’s main stage is a small maze of communal dressing rooms, other assorted rooms and a rather cozy-looking green room. There’s nothing that mass-produces in-jokes quite like a rather large group of people working together to pretend to be other people somewhere else for the benefit of an audience. The basement of the Broadway Theatre Center has a small civilization of such in-jokes populating the corners of its corridors amidst countless posters for previous productions. Perhaps the most stunning part of the entire basement is the shrine to Skylight founder Clair Richardson, whose ashes rest on a floating shelf below the stage. There’s always a light on those ashes. A possibly life-sized black-and-white photo of the man leans-up against a wall nearby. He’s dressed in black. A black tie is firmly in place over his white shirt. There’s a warm, formal look in his eyes as he regards the basement of the theatre from some undefined point in the past. There’s always a light on his ashes. There’s nothing decadent about this. The picture is completely exposed but for a horizontal bar or pipe that  the picture rests behind, keeping it from falling over in addition to doing whatever it is that piece of piping is doing there in the basement of the theatre.

The Prop Shop

The prop shop was delightfully cluttered. Curious attendees looked around vast collections of whimsical bits of stage antiquity. My wife kept pointing out curiosities and asking me if I knew which shows they were from. In my defense, the Skylight has a 50 year history and I haven’t been able to make to all the shows in the past five, so there’s a lot that I wouldn’t’ve had the opportunity to become acquainted with. Some of the odder bits included a metal pig head on a spring with eyes that evidently could light up and a model of the set of the Skylight’s next show—The Barber of Seville. My wife and I noticed a bit of text painstakingly written on the wall which carefully detailed the maximum dimensions of anything built in the shop. It’s difficult to imagine the exact circumstance in which someone would’ve decided to write something like that on the wall, but it makes simple, pragmatic sense. A part of me couldn’t help but picture a large prop barely failing to clear on of the doors on its way to the stage, one of the people in charge of moving the piece casually walking back to the wall—writing down the exact dimensions. And then shouting and pounding the table in frustration. In all likelihood this never happened.

The Costume Shop

The costume shop at the Broadway Theatre Center has a kind of sanity to it. Maybe it’s all that clothing. Maybe it’s the fact that the people who work there have an almost librarian-like quality about them. Maybe it’s the way the light comes in through the window. In any case, the clutter in the costume shop had a very aggressively organized feel to it. Everything was in its place. Everything hung on racks or was placed around the room in clearly-labeled boxes. Then there were the hats. All the hats for countless productions in the long and winding history of the Skylight Opera were there. And As I looked them over, I couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t seem to be in any particular order. I asked about this, and was quickly corrected. The boxes with blue labels were men’s hats. They were on the right end of a large shelf. On the left end of the large shelf were all the hat boxes with pink labels. They were for the women. The ones with white labels rested somewhere in between—evidently androgynous . . . One of the women who worked there pointed out one of the more interesting boxes—the words “precious little hats” adorned a pink label on a box cozily secured in the lower left corner of the large shelf. Cute.

The Crowd Outside


Throughout our tour, the Skylight’s Ray Jivoff could be seen urgently moving from room to room to announce that the free concert in the square would be starting shortly. By the time my wife and I had arrived in the square just south of the theatre, we found ourselves in a rather large group of people. A stage rested in front of a brick wall. A woman was singing something from Little Women. It was a bit strange seeing a classical singer performing in front of a brick wall. The natural habitat of a stand-up comic or a victim of a firing squad seems a bit out of synch, even with modern showtunes. My wife and I milled about the crowd, which we would come to realize was riddled with professional actors. The distinctive black frames of Jonathan West could be spotted amidst a crowd that also included a strikingly casual Brian Mani, a strikingly formal Norman Moses, at least one MUTE out of make-up and Michael Cotey of Youngblood, who was talking to a very talented UWM actress entering her final year in before graduation. Cotey said that he’d be meeting with the rest of the Youngblood this Sunday to hammer out plans for the company’s upcoming season. He also mentioned a project they would be working on with UWM, and a number of companies all over the place . . . The Laramie Project 10 Years Later . . . an interesting concept written by the original group that may possibly be directed locally by Jonathan West . . .

I also had a chance to speak with the Skylight’s PR rep Kristin Godfrey about an upcoming preview of the Skylight’s opening production and other details. The preview runs in the September 17th. The Barber of Seville--the first show of the Skylight’s 50th anniversary season opens September 18th.

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