410 Forum — Arts
The Show Must Go On
By Ron Boyle
Long before the spotlight illuminates the theater stage, Jason Evenson works tirelessly in the shadows and hallways of a back-stage environment to guarantee performances occur as planned. The date is Feb. 27 and the show “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is in town, a sure sign that Evenson, technical coordinator of the Union Colony Civic Center, is going to have a long day. He has to draw from years of experience and rely on months of work already completed to ensure the upcoming chain of events transpire as perfectly as planned. Setting up for a show at the event center requires someone with a scrupulous personality and a love for theater, someone who is willing to work quietly for a week, then put in a 12-hour day of intense labor.
It’s a frigid late-February morning, one punctuated with the rattle of diesel engines that keep two semi trucks at the loading docks ready and warm. There is an oddly social atmosphere just inside the rear doors of the UCCC. Employees file in regularly, all gathered for a common purpose and waiting for further orders. It’s immediately apparent that these intermingling collections of workers are familiar as stories and small-talk begin to erupt.
Just then, an obviously happy and very enthused sort of fellow speaks up. It’s Evenson. After a brief safety talk and an explanation of his expectations, the workers spread out to their respective duties. Evenson excels at this type of communication.
“He is really good at being a liaison between backstage and front of house,” said Mari Hein, ticket services coordinator. “In fact, a lot of the ushers and the patrons have got to know him on a first-name basis.”
The roadhouse crew arrives, and with it stage specialists, who quickly disperse into the theater with a critical eye. Evenson has spent months assuring that contracted needs will be met and every promise kept. This time Evenson has their approval and the unloading of the first semi-truck commences.
“He is a great leader, I’ve learned a lot from him,” said Chris Ransome, Evenson’s assistant technical coordinator. “He is an extremely hard worker; he works till the job is done.”
With 30 pairs of hands forming parallel lines behind the truck, the mighty cargo is unpacked quickly. Fastened black boxes of all shapes zip through the loading dock, knowingly directed by the show’s stage specialists.
Evenson, satisfied with the progress being made, returns to the silence of his office, but only briefly. It’s a quiet office, so quiet that the hand of the high, wall-mounted clock can be heard keeping time.
Snow is flying now as the second semi positions itself for unloading. Heavy, cold air wafts into the loading dock, the kind that inches up your lower extremities, seizing muscles with its advance. Evenson paces the floor with a calm, collected attitude; his steps are quick, so quick that some who follow fall short of breath. He moves between every corner of the stage, the ticketing counter and upper catwalk to assure himself that everything is taken care of. Incredibly, another 15 minutes has passed and the second truck is unloaded as fast as the first.
Stage left! Stage right! Specialists shout directions to the 30-person crew, instructing them where to assemble the color-coded contents of rapidly unpacked boxes. Stage set up has initiated. Curtains and lighting tracks soar into the rafters while others descend at the warnings of those handling the counterweights.
Evenson stays just detached enough so as not to provoke any unnecessary controversy from the edgy, road-weary workers. But lighthearted jokes between electricians and carpenters let loose – a sure sign that stress is diminishing.
By now the stage is largely constructed and audio tests fill the enormous room. Evenson has succeeded, again providing for the needs of his seasonal crew and the roadhouse specialists. Potential conflicts exist during every part of the process.
“It could be anything from the person that I have lined up to do the doughnuts bought out the store and they didn’t have enough donuts for the break, to their truck broke down and they are going to be two hours behind,” Evenson said.
The 30-person group filters out now, their job completed, until a similarly orchestrated departure reassembles them late tonight. But Evenson stands fast, his job typically completed around 1 a.m. Some would say that you would have to be crazy to put in long hours in a quiet and remote office, only to live under the anticipation of upcoming 12-hour days fraught with uncertainty. But for someone who has spent his life captivated by just such an allure, it is a rewarding if not theatrical part of what makes life satisfying.
• Runner: an employee with a car who can run errands on short notice for the production and crew.
• Roadhouse crew: part time workers who are brought in by the show production and are trained on assembly, disassembly and organization of the props.
• Fly-weight loaders: set counter weights for the fly-weight system, which raises and lowers hundreds of pounds of lighting equipment and other special effects with ease.
• Riggers: workers who walk the upper theater platform and check the lighting hardware, curtains and props.
• Evenson has worked for the UCCC since 2005.
• Evenson enlists temporary workers a month in advance and manages them in the way that works best for the visiting roadhouse crew.
• Evenson has been involved in the technical aspect of theater ever since he decided to quit his education at CSU to start his own business. Experience makes up for his lack of a college degree.
• Evenson is personally involved in 24 paid events this year and utilizes an average of 30 temporary employees per show. This show required 10 electricians, a runner, eight carpenters, four audio staff members, two wardrobe people and a hairstylist.
• There have been no at-work injuries reported from his crew this year.
Source: Jason Evenson.