Village Theatre sits in Issaquah, but when the lights dim and the curtains open, it transports audiences to faraway places. It’s embodied Roxie Hart’s jail cell in Chicago, it’s transformed into the bleak streets of Paris during the June Rebellion in Les Misérables, and it’s floated Huck and Jim down the Mississippi in Big River. This stage is home to stories that make us laugh and cry. But what you don’t see past the colorful lights are the people who bring these beloved tales to life behind the scenes. Here’s a look at the characters who work at the theater, but who never set foot on stage in front of the audience.
Tomkins first arrived at Village Theatre in 1988, and he’s been the artistic director for 21 years. He’s responsible for the artistic vision of the theater, which includes picking the season’s shows.
“We’re storytellers… When all this stuff goes away we’re still just telling somebody a story. It could be with five people and no set; it could be with 50 people. But you have to tell a story. That’s what people want. From the dawn of time, from cavemen sitting around the fire, somebody was telling a story. That’s how we communicate; that’s how we entertain.”
costume shop manager
The costume shop is lined with racks of hollow costumes and boxes stacked to the ceiling. In the middle of it all, Savage conducts a team of about a dozen sewers who help her build a population of outfits, many of them elaborate and complex. Her biggest endeavor was 245 costumes for 42nd Street, which she made and sourced from rental companies. For certain shows she also serves as costume designer and carries around an enormous three-ring binder she calls her “bible” full of sketches.
“I definitely think about [my work] all the time. I dreamt the other day … that the costumes were melting. That I was steaming them and they were melting.”
Down the street from the theater is a warehouse where sets come to life. Workers are welding, painting and building. Bixler has worked 18 days straight before a show. He says the barricade for Les Misérables was one of the toughest things he’s ever worked on.
resident sound designer
To keep the sound of a show clean, Warwick rapidly pushes faders up and down in sequence with the speedy banter of the actors. An actor’s microphone is never on for the full show; it’s constantly being turned up and down. It’s as if Warwick’s hands are doing a choreographed dance as the actors speak.
assistant technical director, electrics
“If the audience doesn’t notice [the lighting] then we’ve done our job correctly. Because you’ll always notice a poorly lit show, but you’ll never necessarily notice a correctly lit show.”
The prop closet is a room of misfit items lined up on shelves, mounted to the walls and hanging from the ceiling. You can pick up a phone from almost any decade in an array of colors. Walker manages this world. Guns are among the most complicated props for her to source because of all the laws surrounding them. But while she loves collecting knickknacks for work, she keeps it at the office. “I’m not a hoarder,” she says with a laugh.
resident music director
Symons has been resident music director for 10 years and has worked on about 80 productions. He makes musical decisions for shows and conducts from the pit once a year.
“There’s a ton of collaboration just in the music between the orchestra and the cast and the conductor. But then there’s also collaborating with completely nonmusical things, you know? Acting and lighting and sound design and costumes.”
The business of keeping a local theater open and thriving is challenging. The profit margins can be slim, and shows can be expensive to produce. Hunt has been keeping Village Theatre going since 1979. He manages the business side and oversees programs and productions. He helped open Village Theatre’s second location in Everett in 1998 and keeps KidStage (the theater’s youth program) alive. But he’s more than a numbers guy. He also has strong love for the creative art of live theater.
Like his title implies, Decker is a master of wigs. About two weeks before the premiere of Mary Poppins, he was down in his room transforming a green wig from Anne of Green Gables into a wig for the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious scene. For Mary Poppins he prepared about 40 wigs made out of human hair imported from Asia. It’s a pretty tedious job. He ties tiny knots of itty-bitty pieces of hair into mesh caps to create manes.
“Usually I’m really happy by opening night. Seeing it all on stage is the best part. You know when it works really well and the actors are really happy, the quick changes happen and nothing falls off. That’s what it all comes to.”
Like any creative endeavor, theater takes a lot of passionate people who often have strong opinions. Markham helps harmonize all their voices into one collaborative song. He works with managing budgets, contracts and shop heads to bring the production together on time.
“I’m the guy who gets all of the crazy lined up and going in the right direction … I’m kinda part den mother and part drill sergeant.”