By Nathan Gerdts
The lights aren’t up yet. The curtain has not been raised. It’s not show time.
A well-furnished auditorium lays empty and dormant, a stage bedecked to look like a recording studio circa-1950’s, for now, nothing more than a smorgasbord of unused props.
Ally Taylor wanders this stage, not sure how to feel. On one hand, prop placement and final checkup before locking up has become routine. On the other, a whole new world waits in front of her, a story yet untold.
A story that can’t be fully told unless Elvis’ wig is fully fluffed.
Taylor heads back upstairs to the dressing rooms and workshops above the historic Lyceum Theater in Arrow Rock. A converted church, the Lyceum has been entertaining audiences for nearly a century by putting on musicals and stage plays.
The latest musical craze is Million Dollar Quartet, written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott.
A smash hit since its premiere in 2006 and its Broadway debut in 2010, the jukebox musical is based off the real-life jam session between rock ‘n’ roll legends Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash that was recorded in Memphis on December 4, 1956.
When the Lyceum opened its doors for Quartet from September 7-18, the production needed extra help on the technical crews. Missouri Valley College theater professor Harold Hynick sent out a call to his students. Taylor was the first to jump at the chance.
“It was a paying job, and it was a good opportunity to gain some experience,” Taylor says.
Beginning with full-tech rehearsals on September, Taylor began working almost full days helping with lighting, makeup, wardrobe and costume repair.
“I am a spotlight operator, which is basically a big flashlight,” Taylor says. “I have to move it around and shine on different actors or different things happening in the scene.”
Makeup duties do not mean applying eyeliner or powder to the actors right before the show, but rather making sure makeup artists have everything they need, and that hairpieces like the aforementioned King’s are properly sprayed with hairspray and combed down.
The costume shop is where Taylor spent most of her time, working on fixing the occasional broken button on a jacket or finishing the latest load of post-show laundry.
“I do laundry every night before I leave,” Taylor says. “If something’s broken or has a hole in it, I sew it and patch it back up.”
This process resulted in Taylor, a junior, missing a number of classes and trying to juggle school life and a short-lived working career. The days could swell in length.
“I get here at noon every day,” Taylor says. “If it’s a matinee show, I usually go home around five [in the evening], but if there’s a second evening show, I get home around 12:30.”
And yet, Taylor says she didn’t really mind the taxation of her hours.
“It has been hard, trying to balance school and work,” Taylor says. “But at the same time, it’s a labor of love, because I do enjoy doing it.”
The source of that enjoyment? A long-standing passion for theater that Taylor has had for many years, and the desire to begin a theater career of her own when she graduates from MVC.
“I just love the magic and the storytelling that [theater] can create,” Taylor says. “It’s not like TV, where you’re just watching it happening. In the theater, it’s right there in front of you and you’re transported to that world, and it feels real.”
And so, the Lyceum inevitably grows loud with the noise of another eager audience. Taylor makes the long climb up the scaffolding above the theater where the spotlight crew takes their marks.
She straps on her communication headset and waits for her technical director’s call.
“Five minutes,” the voice declares across the intercom. Behind the curtain, the stage manager calls for starting places.
The house lights go down. The theater is as dark as it was when Taylor departed hours earlier, but now featuring the quiet, anticipatory buzz that zig-zags its way through a new audience, a prospective group of denizens waiting for a new story to unfold.
Taylor feels the magic vibrating through the Lyceum and through her. The curtain goes up. The lights fade on.
Taylor takes a deep breath. The magic is about to happen.
Now, finally, it’s showtime.