Northeast Times

Behind the scenes, he has a starring role

North­ern Liber­ties res­id­ent Dan Schultz runs the show be­hind the scenes for the Wal­nut Street Theatre.

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.

You can reach at rrovner@aol.com.

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