Friday, June 12, 2009

Un Stucking the Butt

Before discussing today’s memory, I feel I need to create some background. The LDS church has created Pageants (or musical plays) for the purpose of telling their story to the masses. There are pageants in New York, Utah and various other locations. Nearly 50 years ago, The Oakland Temple Pageant, “And it Came to Pass,” was created. The performances were presented in the Inter Stake Center in Oakland and were performed in the month of July. There was a 500-person balcony chorus, a 100-person ensemble/main actors, 30 dancers, and the most amazing Technical Staff, with a crew of 20-50, the volunteer theatre world has ever known. Or the universe.

For the first 35 years, the play was locally owned and operated. It was written by two local Bay Area playwrights. All money used for the pageant came from local budgets, and from the donated gifts, talents, and resources of local LDS members. It was a trial for some stakes and some people’s time, but they were rewarded greatly because of their sacrifices.

The play ran on a 3-year rotation. This meant that for two summers, pageant participants could go out and learn their craft in other theatres and return ready to share their new developed talents as they bore testimony of the LDS church in song, acting, dancing and by far the most amazing technical skills in the galaxy.

In 1998, the church head quarters in Salt Lake City and the Missionary Department decided that the pageant needed to be every year and that it needed to be better funded. Part of that new funding was to replace the existing wooden stage that for the most part – was the original stage from 40 years previously.

A set designer, who was a professor at BYU Provo, designed the new set. Local tech directors were not permitted to contribute to the design process. In 2003, a new medal set was delivered. Despite being big, loud, and heavy – the new set came with a lot of new moving parts.

Different theatres use different techniques for scene changes. Some theatres will do a complete black out. Some will have awesome people in black outfits move scenery in and out. Sometimes the performers are responsible for moving scenery around. An ideal way is to have continuous dialogue that takes place on different parts of the stage, which lights up the part of stage where the person is yet darkens the stage where the people in black are setting up for another scene. One way we used to redirect audience attention was to have activity on the downstage area (closest to the audience). Upstage we would “fly” in a black drape, to cover the activities we were doing backstage. With the new set, came a 6 panel “curtain” that would open and close on a pull rope. The panels were square steel tube lined with plywood, with dark blue carpet attached to the plywood, covering the panel. They were ugly to look at. The lighting designer hated them. The tech Director and assistant tech director (me) hated them. Almost everyone on crew hated them. The panel system got known as the “Big Ugly Thing.” Later on it got named the “Big Ugly Terrible Thing.” One delightful crewmember figured out that an appropriate acronym for this panel thing was BUTT.

There were three panels on each side of the stage that would fall into place next to the other as they were pulled closed. When pulled open, the middle two would slide behind the next two and then those four (two on each side of the stage) would slide behind the third and sixth stationary panels. Or at least that was how it was supposed to happen.

Final Dress Rehearsal was considered opening night because it was the night that 200+ missionaries sat out in the audience, to see the play she would be inviting those investigating the church to. On this particular DR, my tech director was absent. I was in charge.

During the show there are about 10 people on an intercom headset. The purpose is to have communication about problems or to relate cues to the crew. There are three people out in the balcony on headset who are running the lights and the sound. There are three people up on the pin rail (a place where pulleys are used with a counter weight system to bring in scenery) and then there are four people down on the stage floor (Tech director, Assistant Tech Director, Floor Manager, Head Medical Person), all on intercom headset.

On this evening, during the middle of the second act, a frantic voice is heard on the intercom. The conversation went like this:

Katie – We have a problem.

Me – What?

Katie – Butt Stuck.

Me – What was that?

Katie – Butt Stuck.

Me – Butt stuck open or closed?

Katie – Butt stuck closed.

I quickly figured out where we were at in the play. I realized that there was a large number of people that were going to be using the stairs at the back of the stage to get to the next scene. These stairs were now blocked by 6 steel panels.

Me – Can anyone see where the problem is?

Paul – This is Paul. The center panels seem to have slid in next to the next panels over. I’m trying to unstuck the butt now.

Me – Anyone else?

Mike – I’m climbing up to pin rail to see if I can get out to it from the catwalk.

For the next several minutes, blue-gelled flash lights swarmed the two center panels of the butt to see if anyone could pry it loose. Reading from left to right, the 3rd panel was our problem panel.

Mike – I can’t reach the panel. Katie is going out on the ledge. Please stand by.

Katie – This is Katie. I’m at the third butt cheek now. The panels are stuck pretty tight.

Me – Can any one get a pry tool to Katie to help pry even just a crack open?

Person I can’t remember – I have the tool and am going up to pin now to get it to Katie.

Me – Paul, how is it on the bottom?

Paul – I think it’s just stuck on the top.

Me – Okay – when this scene ends we’ll have one opportunity to unstuck the butt. Katie – Applying pry to cheek three.

Suddenly, we, and I think the whole audience, hear a pop.

Me – Okay, stay in place incase we need it to be pried open again. The scene is ending. Is everyone ready?

Mike, Paul, Katie – Ready!

As the scene ended, Mike pulled the 6 cheeks of the BUTT open and the panels slid perfectly. However, the next thing we hear is the voice of Julie, the director.

Julie – I hate to interrupt – but what is the butt?

Me – It is that big ugly terrible panel thing in the back. Why?

Julie, just wanted to know. I wanted to make sure you guys weren’t playing with each other’s butts back there.

(I had totally forgot she was listening in)


Each year the set gets taken down and stored. Because this was the first year with this set, each part had to be labeled. Salt Lake sent out a member of the 70 to observe. (a member of the 70 is like the assistant to the vice president in a company) I cannot tell this next part as a memory, because my mom died 4 days after closing night and so I was not there for take down. However, as it has been told to me:

Marc is labeling parts of the set. He labels the BUTT pieces Butt 1, Butt 2, Butt 3, etc. As Marc is labeling, Harold (one of the assistant Tech Directors) wonders over with the member of the 70. In the Mormon Church, things purchased with tithing money are considered sacred and are to be cared for with the best regard. The 70,was aghast that parts of “the Lord’s stage” were being labeled Butt 1 and so forth. He asked Harold and, according to what I’ve heard, just stood there, unsure how to answer. Evidently Harold had quite the array of faces he tried using before just convincing the member of the 70 to move along.

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