Monday, May 5, 2008

Backstage with the Tuna Helpers

By the dressers for Greater Tuna, Dexter Ramey, Shannon McCallester and Eric Evans

Every night as two talented actors step on stage and bring the citizens of Tuna, Texas to life from little Jody Buemiller and Vera Carp to Bertha Buemiller and the Rev. Spikes, the stories are played out to the delight of the audience. However the audience is not aware of the show behind the show. The people behind the curtains that transform the actors into 20 characters using 45 costume changes. We are the Tuna Helpers.

In an often fast paced 2 hours the transformations occur in as little as 15 seconds to a leisurely 2 minutes. Working together with the actors in what can best be describe as a dance, or at times controlled chaos, we the Tuna Helpers have learned the following things through trial and error.

  1. If Stanley’s sandals are forgotten in the dressing room it is not humanly possible to run upstairs to the 3rd floor dressing room and back in the time it takes Vera Carp and Aunt Pearl Burris to say goodbye to Judge Roscoe Buckner. It’s close, but as they say close only counts in horse shoes.

  2. A sandal is just a sandal. Let Stanley wear Chad’s shoes….knowledge that would have been useful to us before attempting to set the land speed record up the back stairs of the Hanover Tavern. Lastly and most importantly….do not hit sweet Aunt Peal in the head with said flying sandals.

  3. Necessity is indeed the mother of all invention. A tube of lipstick can double as a hair curler when needed. We have to keep our LGBT (Ladies Gathered for Better Tuna) looking their best.

  4. The true power of double stick tape is in its ability to hold together Bertha Buemiller’s earring better than hot glue. 5 weeks and counting. Now if we could just get it to stay on Rev Spikes’ upper lip.

  5. Don’t let the actors see you panic….it might be contagious.

  6. Laughter makes everything okay.

I think it can be safely said that without the highly talented dressing skills of the Tuna Helpers, the good citizens of Tuna, Texas would still be there to entertain you…but they would probably be naked!

So come on y’all…come enjoy the show and as they say in The Wizard of Oz… no attention to those people behind the curtain.

- Dexter Ramey, Shannon McCallester and Eric Evans


Joe said...

Dexter, Shannon, and Eric--the Tuna Helpers--have overestimated the time it takes to accomplish their fastest change. Modestly, they said "as little as 15 seconds."

In Act II, however, they consistently transform me from R.R. Snavely to Thurston Wheelis in no more than 3 seconds! Basically, I exit left as R.R. and don't stop walking before entering right as Thurston. Audiences respond as though they've just witnessed a major feat of magic--"Oooo," "Ahhh," "Oh my lord!" Then, always, roars of laughter.

While some of the "magic" might be spoiled, I think it'd be a hoot if we were to have a closed-circuit TV monitor on stage (next to the radio?) and a camcorder backstage showing just what the Tuna Helpers are doing behind that wall. I'm not sure how delighted audience members would be by the sight of David and me in the near-buff (panty hose only), but the dexterity and speed of the Tuna Helpers is assuredly its own entertainment, quite separate from the show on stage.

We love our Tuna Helpers!
Joe Inscoe
(Thurston, et al)

Jacquie said...

I have enjoyed working with all the Tuna Helpers. I want to add that these folks are just amazing under pressure. The first time we ran through the show most of the costume changes were taking about 2 to 5 mins to complete. They were given the daunting task of making it all work in 20 seconds or less (in most cases.) This meant having to run them over and over again until it worked. No one lost their temper…in fact there was much laughter and cheering when it finally all came together. You can throw anything at these folks…they are THAT good!

As I overheard one patron said out loud on opening night to her friend sitting next to her “Now this show is FOR REAL!”

It’s so true!

Your Stage Manager
Jacquie O.

Chuck said...

Just want to compliment all the talent both on-stage and backstage on Greater Tuna. This is truly the kind of play I like to see- one that keeps me laughing from start to finish. It is rare we find such a performance, and Greater Tuna is that rare bit of brilliance. Well done! And once again, I appreciate the opportunity to opt out of the scheduled play at Willow Lawn and to substitute another play. Greater Tuna was worth the long drive from Powhatan to Hanover. The theater is cozy and we will definitely return. Maybe Barksdale could offer an opportunity to select a package of selections from either/both Willow Lawn or Hanover. That way we could avoid those "edgy" plays that make us uneasy when we watch.
We like to see more of the Tuna series also.

Sara Marsden, Marketing Dir. said...

To Chuck - I am so glad you enjoyed Greater Tuna so much and your experience at Hanover Tavern. We are very proud of the show and the wonderful talent both on and off stage. To address your suggestion about having a subscription option that allows you to choose your own shows, both from the Hanover season and the Signature Season at Willow Lawn, I am happy to say that we do! It is called a Passport Subscription and it contains 10 coupons (you can use them in any combination) for any show at any location. Please call the Box Office for more information if you would like, or you can call me directly at 643-2477.

Bruce Miller said...

I too appreciate Chuck's positive comments about "Greater Tuna." I'm very glad he (you) enjoyed the show.

To add to Sara's comment, we have always encouraged subscribers from one series to switch to a show in another series if that other show is more to their liking. We purposefully scheduled "Greater Tuna" and "Peter Pan" (both of which I love) opposite "The Little Dog Laughed" (which I also love) for this reason. And still I received a very angry letter yesterday from Mrs. Garcia, a subscriber in Colonial Heights, asking why we couldn't try to achieve "at least some balance."

It's a humbling experience to learn how hard it is to get the word out. We remain a theatre committed to welcoming to the table everyone in our community. And we continue to ask audience members to help us by deciding at which table they'd like to eat.

We know some audience members prefer to see the tried and true, to stay within their comfort zone, to laugh and be entertained. We know other audience members like to be challenged and surprised, to experience theatre that is fresh and new, to respond with a variety of emotions--laughter being only one of them.

Those who think the Richmond audience is made up of only one type of theatregoer are simply wrong.

If we are able, we will continue to celebrate the art form of theatre in all its many facets, and ask audience members to meet us halfway by reviewing all their options and determining which shows are best suited to their tastes.

Marcia said...

This is my 20th year of teaching Drama in the Chesterfield County schools and I have been thrilled by the productions this year at Barksdale Theater at Willow Lawn and Hanover Tavern. After subscribing to "Broadway Under the Stars" for five years, I have so preferred the intimate theatre environment that Barksdale offers. GREATER TUNA is a tribute to minimal sets, a small cast, and amazing costume changes. Although this show has been around for twenty plus years, I can't imagine the acting ever being better than what I witnessed on May 18 at the Hanover stage. Barksdale Theatre keeps old Drama teachers inspired and motivated to teach another five years!