Behind the Scenes of “Bye Bye Birdie”
While the actors are busy learning their lines and the musicians are practicing their scores, the backstage crew is not idle. From the beginning, they are researching the time period, planning the set, determining the props that will be needed, sewing costumes, building sets and much more.
Brandon Shawl, a junior theatre arts administration major, was the stage manager of this academic production at the Tower Theatre. While he has been in a stage manager position before, “Bye Bye Birdie” was his first time doing it at Liberty.
“As the stage manager you are basically the hub of everyone so you are holding the group together of the cast and the crew and the designers and staff and faculty. You are the middle ground that connects everyone, so without you… the community isn’t complete,” Shawl said.
He explained that the audience only sees the final product but there is so much more involved. He started listing all the meetings and rehearsals and ended with there are just hundreds of hours poured into making it all happen. He said if you really wanted to figure it all out, “That is just a lot of math…” Counting just the hours for the eight performances, the backstage crew works between 40-50 hours.
As the set designer and staff production manager, Mark Howieson said he had a unique perspective because he was the only one from the team that was alive during the 1960s to remember what it was like back then. He said he wanted to infuse the show with the energy and fun that he saw as a child so the audience could feel it as well.
Howieson then detailed all the research that went into understanding the intent of the playwright. He listened to the music of playwright’s time, the people who influenced them, the philosophies of their day, the cultural factors, etc. He said he loved his position because he was able to collaborate with so many other artists and designers and discuss the endless possibilities.
“There are always certain things in a script that tell you, we are at a train station, so you know those things right off, but it is the question of why is it important that makes the play work that I try to figure out,” Howieson said.
Before one of their rehearsals, Shawl read Matthew 11:28-30 to the entire group. He shared that the passage had really been an inspiration to him, Howieson and the rest of the crew the past weeks.
“It is a great reminder that even when things get stressful and tiring and we are here for long hours, we can always turn to God for rest and that ultimately we are doing this for Him and without Him we wouldn’t be able to do this. He is the one who gives us these talents and abilities,” Shawl said. “…Theatre is our way of worshiping Him every night whether through rehearsals or through the show and just praising Him for the gifts and abilities that He has given each and every one of us.”