Dan Schultz is no stranger to stage fright.
For the Northern Liberties resident and technical director for the Walnut Street Theatre, though, nerves come not from playing a part under the hot stage lights, but from ensuring that the stage itself is performance-perfect.
When previews began May 15 for the theater’s (825 Walnut St.) final production of the season, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Schultz had months of work and preparation behind him.
Schultz’s own “stage” is the theater’s scene shop at 3340 Frankford Ave. Formerly an auto mechanic workshop, it’s now the Walnut’s headquarters for creating sensational sets.
Before production began on the rousing musical about the musician who changed the face of popular music in the 1950s, Schultz consulted with scenic designer Robert Kovach.
“He wanted a very retro, late ’50s, juke-boxy feel,” said Schultz.
Getting that “feel” included creating 28 oversized old-fashioned 45-rpm records, an onstage recording studio and an onstage “stage” where the musician gives one of his final concerts.
“It’s designed like a bandstand, with elevated levels,” Schultz explained of the mock stage, noting that musicians are seated on different levels and the music is performed live during the show. He estimated that the set uses about 9,000 watts of power.
Once all the set pieces were constructed, everything was hauled from the Kensington shop to the Center City theater — in seven truckloads.
Schultz said the first time he and his staff got to see the set completely assembled on stage was very suspenseful; he wondered if everything would fit and look just right.
“We know from experience there are always adjustments to be made,” he said.
Such kinks are worked out during the hectic time of marathon rehearsals known as “tech week.” Even after tech week, though, Schultz’s work isn’t over.
He sits in the audience during previews and makes notes of any necessary last-minute changes or mistakes, like incorrect lighting or visible backstage materials.
By opening night, May 23, his work for “Buddy” is over. By then, he’ll already be doing preliminary planning for the 2012-13 season.
Although he loves his work, Schultz said he didn’t envision the career when he attended Messiah College and earned a degree in filmmaking. His friends in the theater program sparked his interest in a different field.
He’s since worked at the Arden Theatre as a carpenter, and for several scene shops.
“I found that I enjoyed the theater environment much more than the film environment,” he said. “It was much more welcoming and friendly.”
He was delighted to eventually land his job at the Walnut.
“The Walnut’s reputation is so well-known that I was thrilled to be part of this theater,” he said.
This is his fourth season with the Walnut, and Buddy is his 20th full-scale production. Each one brings new challenges — and satisfactions.
A high moment, he said, comes when he’s in the audience, watching the show unfold on the set that he and his staff built from scratch.
“That’s a very satisfying feeling,” he said. “I like the magic you can make out of plywood and paint.”
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story runs through July 15. For tickets, call the box office at 215-574-3550 or visit www.wstonline.org.