BWW Blog: Eric Ulloa of Goodspeed's THE MOST HAPPY FELLA - Little Tin Box
ASM HEATHER KLEIN
If a car rear view mirror states that "objects are closer than they appear," then Goodspeed needs a sign upon entering that states, "Everything you see on stage is MUCH smaller than it appears."
One of the most fascinating aspects of working at Goodspeed Musicals is that you have to accommodate yourself to performing on one of the smallest stages in the world. Audiences (myself included while seeing "Hello, Dolly!") enjoy fully realized lavish musicals every year here with casts of 20+ actors creating magic on that stage. What they don't realize is that this "magic" has to sometimes be contained to about a foot of space in order to fit everything in and avoid chorus boys and girls from falling into the Orchestra Pit.
Allow me to take you behind the scenes and breakdown the craziness that you will never see from your subscription seats. A backstage peek that will hopefully make you smile a little more the next time you see a show, as you're now in on our little secret.
"In My Own Little Corner"
I am the kind of actor that sometimes likes to sit in the wings, out of the way, and watch certain moments of a production that am part of. Sometimes they fuel and motivate my next entrance, sometimes I want to watch someone I admire be brilliant and sometimes I just like to hear the way a cast member sings their song and can't get enough of it from my dressing room monitor. Goodspeed, being limited in size, has wing space that is equivalent to my patience for Guy Fieri's voice...VERY SMALL. With the expansive nature of the shows done here comes many, many sets and a need to find a home for these when they are not being utilized onstage. Where do they go? You are correct...the wings. For example, we start our show in a diner which is a massive set piece that is used only once in the first twenty minutes of the show. After that, it becomes a kind of actors lounge, as anyone that is coming in from stage left must hang out in the diner before they enter.
Since they have to accommodate space for us to be backstage, the tech crews sometimes turn scenic pieces into floating piñatas high above, and at any given moment you can look up and see a bench or a wheelchair or whatever else has been suspended to free up space. And to go even further into the limitations, there is no fly space, meaning that everything you see that comes in is cleverly rigged and all those beautiful drops are roll drops that come down like elementary school maps.
"How low can you go?"
Any actor that has worked at Goodspeed knows that if you are even slightly tall, you must slouch down a bit when entering or exiting the stage. Imagine my joy at being a 6'3" man living in this Hobbit Shire of Middle Earth...everything requires ducking or decapitation. Stage right's exit even goes so far as to make pretty much everyone in our cast limbo down the first few stairs on your trek back to the dressing rooms...ask anyone that has worked here, as I imagine it is the stuff of legends.
I actually have a funny story for you from this past weekend that involves just this scenario. Finally becoming comfortable with the show onstage and after seven shows, I ready myself for curtain call stage right. Smiling across the way, as I always do before entering to Danny Lindgren, I begin the march onstage to my mark for the bows. Right as I am clearing the wings, "Boom!"...duck or get decapitated...I have knocked the hat right off my head and am entering stage with my mic sticking up from my hair and my face flushed in embarrassment. I bow, the cast laughs at me, I die a little on the inside and I vow to NEVER FORGET TO DUCK AGAIN!
(I know it seems like I am obsessed with my caps lock key in this installment, but "caps" helps me to remember these lessons)
"Apples and Pears"
Stairs. Stairs everywhere. Everything involves stairs. From the moment you walk in...stairs. For the sake of not scaring my knees before today's matinee, I will leave it at that.
Lack of space creates the need to get creative with regards to many facets of backstage life. One of these is that there is absolutely no room for a prop table anywhere. The ingenious crew has developed a system over the long haul here, and that is the "prop cubby," two ingenious little attics next to the hellish limbo stairs and decapitation stage left that hold everything that cannot be contained anywhere else. When it is time for you to enter with a certain prop, you can safely bet that there will be a crew member right next to you with that prop in hand ready for your entrance. Yes, that puts a great deal of trust into your crew but, from my personal experience, they are spectacular and well deserving.
It may seem like this entry has been a lot of bitching and moaning, I assure you that it's not. This is my way of giving a well deserved bow to the crew, that strapped with so many limitations, still give audiences the theatrical experiences that have made Goodspeed a national institution. This is my way of giving a bow to the producers who never allow the limitations of this landmark to change their programming and forever insist on massive beautiful productions. This is my way of giving a bow to the directors and choreographer who must think outside of the box to discover how to create the magic they do in this space. This is my way of giving a bow to the backstage show that the actors must perform so that the show you are watching from the audience is seamless.
And speaking of bows, feel free to scream "Duck!" before I walk out at curtain call so you don't see a hatless fool, rubbing his head and blushing.