The Texas Shakespeare Festival, says technical director Meghan Potter, is one of the very few true rotating repertory companies in the country.
“Most theater companies when they say they're 'rotating rep,' they do one show, they finish it, they take it off the stage, and then they load the next one in," Potter said. "But we do, depending on where we are in the season, three different shows on the same stage every day.
"So, changeover is the process of taking all of the scenery off of the stage, changing colors in the lighting instruments and putting the new set on stage for the afternoon or evening performance."
The Texas Shakespeare Festival cast and crew works off the stage at the Anne Dean Turk Fine Arts Center at Kilgore College, and changeover from one set to another is an integral part of any performance day's work throughout the summer.
"It's kind of our bread and butter," Potter said. "We're known for doing it – you can come as an audience member in two days and see four shows, which you can't do at a lot of theaters. And so without the changeovers it's not possible. We're based out of a junior college, so there's not different facilities and venues that we can perform in, so if something goes wrong with the changeover, it's going to kind of create a domino effect...
"But I think it's almost as much of a staple now-a-days as them coming to see the show. It's kind of our deal I guess."
Changeover from the matinee performance's set to the evening show's layout is open to the public at no cost.
"And it's narrated," Potter said. "The managing director, John Dodd, talks the audience through, just kind of narrates what's happening on stage, but also he talks about the process, y'know: what the budgets are, how long it takes to build things. He introduces people as they walk across the stage – 'This is our master electrician. This is our master carpenter. We have people from this many states, this many countries.'
"And it's a chance for audience to ask questions, 'Where do you store this? Where do you get your costumes? How did this work?' So it's just kind of an insider look."
The whole process is choreographed and carefully monitored.
"I choreograph it," Potter said. "So I create spreadsheets that tell them what needs to go off in what order, where it's stored, who needs to take it off, and then my assistant is actually the person on stage that runs it.
"I sometimes am in the audience doing the narration if Mr. Dodd can't do it, but really I'm there to be kind of like a watchful eye to make sure that nothing catastrophic is about to happen, no one's doing anything unsafe, to answer any questions if a piece of scenery breaks, as it tends to do when it gets pulled in and out, so (I'm in) kind of a more supervising role."
Changeover has grown a lot since the Texas Shakespeare Festival began.
It used to be that the maximum time for changeover was an hour and a half, Potter said, but now they're in the two and half, three hour range.
"We used to have much smaller, simpler sets, and then the festival has just kind of grown and evolved, and so it used to be it would only take about 10 or 15 people to changeover a show, and now it's about 25 to 30," she noted. "It used to be that we would have one semi-truck parked out back, and now we have two, and we have scenery hidden everywhere throughout the building 'cause there's just so much of it. We're now requiring hard hats and safety glasses, and we have a dress code, which we didn't used to have...
"So it's just kind of grown, and it's kind of solidified and become a little more professional. We've always invited the audience to watch it, but now there's a strict code of conduct. You can't say certain words, you can't joke around."
Learn more about the company and this season's productions and times at TexasShakespeare.com