On the Beat: 4/26/16

The ‘behind the scenes boys’

By Jim Bucher

OK, you’re seeing a show at the Victoria or Schuster and it’s a masterpiece of sound and light, absolutely wonderful, perfection. It’s so engrossing you forget sometimes it’s just a show. That means the folks behind the scenes are doing their jobs flawlessly.

There are two longtime behind-the-curtain crew members who, combined, have worked hundreds of shows helped make your experience possible—local #66 Stagehands Union members Chuck Young, since 1981, and Keith Thomas punching the time clock for the first time in 1992, both now retired (well, one semi), reflect on their careers and the love of the theatre.

“I think it is an interesting story that Chuck helped me get into this business and I helped him get out,” Thomas says. ”I don’t think either one of us knew we were going to step down at the same time and once I did last September he called me and asked how to help him prepare for retiring in January of this year.”

Both were house audio engineers, Thomas primarily for the old Memorial Hall, then the Schuster, and Young at the Victoria.

“I went from using some of the oldest equipment in town to operating what is probably the most complex permanent installation system in the area,” Thomas says. “It was a very sophisticated system and took me quite a while to wrap my head around all its capabilities. Additionally, having the ability to change the acoustics in the house at the Schuster was a variable that I never had the capability of changing before added a whole new element of interest to the job.”

Young was born into the biz, so his destiny was determined from the get-go.

“I’m a third generation stagehand so it is in my blood,” he says. “My grandfather was one of the original charter members of our union and was employed at the Victory before it was renovated into the Victoria. I don’t think there was any way I was going to be in any other industry than show business.”

Now, I’m quite sure after all these years there had to be an occasional “the show must go on” story or two.

“It was during the ‘Summer of 42’ performance’,” Young starts. “There was a scene where about eight performers were sitting in a row of chairs onstage facing the audience pretending to watch a movie. Then a bolt snapped and all eight chairs flipped backwards. The performers landed on their backs. All we could see were ankles and feet bouncing around. They continued in this position, recited their lines without interruption until the next black out. It was hysterical.”

And Thomas’ “show must go on” story?

“Probably the most memorable for me, and maybe the entire country, was when we performed Cats with absolutely no scenery at the Victoria,” he remembers. “Due to severe weather the set did not make it to the theatre in time for opening night. Management decided to do the show anyway and somehow got the touring company to perform in a black box configuration with no scenery. Don’t think that has ever been done before or since.”

For both these behind the scenes veterans, the joy and pleasure they received working as a cohesive unit to bring a couple of hours of forget-your-troubles to thousands of theatregoers is unforgettable.

“I think the best part of the job is the feeling I get when the last note is played during a performance and the entire crowd instantly springs to its feet for a standing ovation,” Thomas says. “To know that I had a part in something that resonated so deep with so many is such a great feeling.”

And Young?

“I guess the best part of the job was the feeling of accomplishment after getting through the opening of a large show and having a really good performance,” he says. “That was a very rewarding experience.”

Thomas still works part time in the footlights, Young has hung up his mic for good, but misses the “smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd.”

“Once you’ve been ‘bitten by the bug’ of theatre, it’s in your blood,” Young says. “When you’re mixing a show, from the time the curtain goes up until it comes down, it demands your full attention. And becomes very addicting to be in that situation. I will always miss those days.”

Thomas adds, “The fact we both held identical positions for so long together will make for an interesting story to my grandkids someday.”

And right now, too.

Cheers and ‘black-out.’

Buch

For over 25 years, Jim Bucher has been a regionally known and loved local television icon. “Buch’s” followers describe him as trustworthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and role model. You can promote your business with Buch and grab your customer’s attention! Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com

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For over 25 years, Jim Bucher has been a regionally known and loved local television icon. “Buch’s” followers describe him as trustworthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and role model. You can promote your business with Buch and grab your customer’s attention! Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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