Tuesday, May 21

Life in the Theater

Randy Lord and Chris Leebrick c. 1991.( Photo : OCT)

The Lord Leebrick  Theater in Eugene Oregon - Now christened The Oregon Contemporary Theater- moved to a new location recently. As I watched the seats  being stripped from the old place, it brought back a lot of memories for me. The first play I saw there was "A Winter's Tale" and it inspired me enough to get back into the theater game.

Chris Leebrick and Randy Lord were an odd couple with big plans. Chris was tall, laid back and slightly rumpled. Randy was short and nervous with a constant look of panic. At first the duo lived at the theater and I would arrive for work to see an unmade cot or dirty dishes in the utility sink backstage.

They didn't just run the business together, they performed in many of the shows. They went after each other in "True West". Chris and brother Richard dueled with broad swords in the electric "MacBeth" and Randy was hilarious as "The Nerd". That production had it's own drama when an audience member had a seizure. The performance was stopped and paramedics called. The performance continued only to be stopped again by another audience member having some kind of attack. Very strange.

I came on board while the old auto shop was still being converted into a workable theater. The garage door hung above the entrance. The office shared it's space with the dressing room, separated by a curtain. Oh yeah and there was one toilet in the building. Intermission resulted in a long line and frequently clogged plumbing. The audience got wise and would flee to the coffee shop across the street for a break and refreshments as they were in short supply too.

The first play I worked on was "Keely and Du" running props and making my stage debut as a prison guard. I went on to be stage manager for several Holiday Vaudeville shows. Although it was strictly G rated out front for the kids, backstage it was R rated among the rowdy, close knit cast. I finally got to act in "Beyond Therapy"  as an eccentric therapist. I often joked that I did everything at the theater except run it. I couldn't handle doing that job seeing how Randy and Chris had their hands full.

The early productions had a high school quality to them due to small budgets but they never lacked of talent. The equipment was often haphazard and pulled together from this and that- the light rigging gave me nightmares along with the first light board. Unlike the new computer controlled one where all the cues are done with a push of a button, the old one required setting all the cues manually ( imagine a giant light switch with 40 dimmers constantly being set to different levels). Sound carried everywhere because of the acoustics so during a performance everyone in the lobby and backstage had to be as deathly silent as the family in "Ann Franks' Diary".

I watched the the theater grow from an ambitious dream by two old college pals into a professional organization with a brand new facility. It has become the best theater company I've seen and I can't wait to see what magic they create in their new space.

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