Texas Shakespeare Festival actors are often the ones who get the most attention from the audience. They are the ones standing in the spotlight, after all. There are other festival members who work just as hard to make the festival a success but they are usually found operating the spotlight, sewing costumes, building sets and making props.
The unsung heroes of the festival are the crew members who do an incredible amount of work each season to make sure actors have costumes to wear, sound cues to follow and set pieces on which to perform. They start early and finish late. The 33rd season of the festival will debut in late June but the crew has already started working.
For some crew members, the festival is a yearly ritual which allows them to advance in their careers and develop their skills. They travel from across the country to take part in the process of producing a multi-week run of plays at the only professional theater in East Texas.
Nick Gardin came all the way from Athens, Ohio, to take part in this year’s Shakespeare festival.
“This is my third season,” Gardin said. “I started as an intern in the props department and then last year I was assistant artisan and now I’m the props master.”
The journey from intern to artisan to department master is an exponential increase in responsibility. The TSF website describes the basic responsibilities of a props intern, which mostly include assisting the artisans with building and acquiring props while helping out with other jobs when an extra hand is needed. As the properties master, Gardin will oversee the production and acquisition of props for all four professional plays in the standard season, as well as the children’s show and black box performance.
While this job requires a great deal of hard work, it also provides Gardin with opportunities to use his skills as a craftsman to explore his interests in theater.
“I’m really excited about ‘King John’,” he said. “I’m always a big fan of weaponry in shows and there’s a lot of weaponry in this one.”
In fact, Gardin had spent Tuesday in the TSF Prop Shop crafting fearsome-looking weaponry for use in the Shakespearean historical play, which takes place during a time of fierce fighting between England and France.
Many who become part of the TSF crew have some background in theater or performing arts but this is not a prerequisite. Some, like Charlie Boyd, found themselves with a passion for stagecraft and theatrical productions after pursuing another path.
Boyd came from Greenville, North Carolina to join the TSF crew and 2018 is her first season with the festival.
Although she traveled over 1,100 miles to spend her summer working in Kilgore, Boyd doesn’t feel too out of place in East Texas.
“North Carolina, even being a little bit more north, has still got that very Southern vibe to it,” Boyd said. “It’s not that different in regards to the mentality of people and the hospitality aspects and things like that.”
She has noticed at least one major change, however.
“The weather is definitely a little bit more humid than what I’m used to,” she said.
Boyd participated in theater productions earlier in her life but didn’t fully leap into the arts at first.
“I did a couple of shows just on the side when I was in high school,” she said. “But my original tracking initially was all science-based. I was originally a forensics major then ended up getting my associate’s in fine arts after I ended up not going the science route. My associate’s in fine arts was actually a visual arts degree in sculpture and photography. I do a little costumes, a little props and now I’m at East Carolina University in their Theater Production program.”
Though Gardin and Boyd have very different histories with theatere in their personal lives, they can agree on one thing.
“I’m also a really big weaponry fan,” Boyd said. “’King John’ is going to be fun but I’m also really enjoying working on ‘Tartuffe’ because that’s got some interesting leather pieces in it that I was able to work on.”
The former forensics major with a background in science, sculpture and photography who spent Tuesday sewing a pillow to hold a crown in the production of “King John,” has another area of expertise.
“That’s kind of one of my specialties that I’ve picked up, doing leatherwork,” she said.
The TSF cast and crew will be working 13-hour days, six days a week until the first production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” premieres at the Van Cliburn Auditorium on the Kilgore College campus at 7:30 p.m. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit www.texasshakespeare.com or call the box office at 903-983-8601.