In 1975, SCT produced its first season at the Poncho Theatre in Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. It started as a small civic program of the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, with initial funding from the City of Seattle and PONCHO (Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations).
By 1993, the program had takenon a life of its own and had outgrown the original space and moved into the 482-seat Charlotte Martin Theatre.
Success continued, and in 1995 the SCT had added the more intimate 275 seat Eve Alvord.
In 2000, As the size and scope of the SCT continued to expand, support from the city, grants and private donations led to the completion of the Allen Family Technical Pavilion, which consists of the paint, costume, prop, and scene shops as well as rehearsal and classroom spaces. The final state-of-the-art facility was the first self-contained theatre complex built for young audiences in the nation, and has since been used as a model for other theatres.
By the end of the 2016-17 Season, SCT will have produced over 240 plays, 111 of which are world premieres. SCT has been recognized as the second-largest resident theatre for young audiences in North America and among the twenty largest regional theatres in the United States, with an annual operating budget of approximately $6.5 Million.
“… Anyone in show business will tell you; if you want to see a show, go in through the front door. If you want to see a business, go in through the back …
When you’re buzzed through the back door at reception you’re officially in the Allen Family Pavilion, which takes up roughly half of SCT’s total footprint. Aside from classrooms, studios and offices, this massive multi-floored space is designed for one purpose; theatre production. All departments needed are under roof; props, paint, costumes, lighting and sound, all anchored around the more than impressive scene shop.
When we were there, they were deep into building the seasons first production, “GO DOG. GO!”, a SCT classic. The show was three weeks out, and all departments were hard at work bringing the show to life. The Production side of Seattle Children’s Theatre ranks with the best in the business. So good, in fact, that it’s been used as a model for other shops across the country.
Overseeing it all is Technical Director Mike Hase. Quick to laugh, quicker to heap praise on his people and calm in every situation, it’s probably the best attitude to have under the circumstances. There’s a reason the word “Director” is in the title. If the Artistic Director is responsible for the vision of the company, the Technical Director is responsible for executing that vision.
And for a Theatre like Seattle Children’s Theatre, the execution must be of an exceptional and consistent caliber.
Mike has been Technical Director for SCT for 20 years, having been Technical Director at Honolulu Theatre For Youth prior to that. He’s worked in or experienced nearly every theatrical discipline throughout his career. It’s obvious that for Mike, the idea of this wide exposure is what makes a good TD; to be able to understand the language of all of the departments is critical to success.
“The process usually starts before I get involved,” Mike explained, “The Artistic Director will pick a season, based on whatever reason. Then they will hire the designers, costumers, scenic and sound and come up with a concept …”
Mikes involvement starts once that’s established. “They’ll say here’s our concept, ask does this sound doable? Should we go down this road?” Mike tells me, “But that part is still real fluid. They’ll work, play, and at some point we get a set of sketches and at that point I need to say we can afford this, we have the time for this.” “Or, we need this much money or this amount of time, it can work either way.”
It’s the Technical Directors’ job to craft the production plan, working with the heads of the various departments to draft budgets of money and time. Sometimes the best advisement is the most direct.
“I’m not a guy to say no,” Mike said, “We don’t want to stifle the artistic process. So we lay it all out honestly.” “Here are the tough parts, here are the expensive parts, here’s either the technical challenge or the money challenge.”
As Technical Director, Mike works as both producer for and adviser to, the artistic side. Since the “M” word kept popping up in the conversation we asked Mike his thoughts on budgets, specifically the plusses and minuses of working with say, quarter as opposed to a dollar.
“Personally, I’d like the challenge of working with the dollar,” he says chuckling, “But in the broad views of things it’s a good challenge to have a smaller budget and be creative about the solutions to tell your story.” Mike recalled a recent example. “Last year when we did “The Wizard Of Oz”, we had a decent budget,” He said, “and so we did these effects for Auntie M in the Crystal Ball. Lighting, holograms, you name it.” Mike continued. “At the same time a high school nearby was doing the show and I went to see it. They simply had the actress playing Auntie M stick her head up into the ball.”
“Simple solution. Different solution. they have no money, so what is the solution? Where is the creativity and what forces that?”
We wanted to know a little more about how technology has changed the world of production over the decades he’d been on the job. “I love Technology,” he said wasting zero time in answering. “There’s a lot more available to us now. Automation is all computer driven now, it’s a lot cleaner, more precise, more consistent. But,” he adds, “Automation can also mean more people to properly operate the tech, and that can add money.” He thought a moment, “But don’t forget that now there’s e-mail, there’s cameras everywhere, there’s CAD,” (although Mike admits he still prefers to draft by hand), “But the changes, the manipulations, changes in scale, duplication, this saves time and time is money, you can’t match that.”
We asked how technology has changed what ultimately winds up onstage. Mike thinks for a moment. “Things do want to be a little splashier these days,” he begins, “attention spans are a little shorter, so we use more video.” He continues. “From the standpoint of light and sound those technologies are completely different.”
“I’m sure there are Artistic Directors who would completely contradict me, but we do tend to keep the show shorter,” he comments, “Some of that’s bladder size, some is attention span. But that helps, you’re packing more in there to tell the story.”
Time was tight, time for one more quick question.
“What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about a career in technical theatre or wants to be a Technical Director?”
“That’s a difficult question …”
Well, here at BITN we ask the tough questions …
“The one strongest piece of advice I give to someone wanting to get involved with theatre and wanting to pursue, especially, technical theatre is learn everything.”
“Especially as a Technical Director”, understand the elements. You do not have to be great at everything, you need to find good people you can talk to, and delegate to.”
“But know it all. Act. You don’t like acting? Too bad, experience it. Costume design? Go do a little. You don’t need to be good at it but you do need to know it, you need to understand it.”
“Lighting. Sound. Video. Get a good strong understanding across the board. If you are young you’re lucky. Dive in, get into it early.”
“And keep your math up,” he says finally. “Computers do a lot of it now, but you’re using a lot of trigonometry; gear ratios for motors, safety factors for rigging. You don’t need to have physicist level math skills, but you need to get a solid basis in math.”
“The other equally strong piece of advice I can give is simply, you gotta love it.”
I cannot thank Mike Hase and the production crew at Seattle Children’s Theatre enough for letting us invade their space, get underfoot and in general take up their valuable time.
To learn more about the SCT, click here at SEATTLE CHILDREN’S THEATRE.
Until next time!