By WARREN DILLAWAY - email@example.com
For a quarter of a century Phil Mullet has been balancing acting and technical excellence.
“My first show that I did was in 1988. I went over (to the Ashtabula Arts Center) to do a show with my daughter (“Once Upon a Mattress”),” Mullet said. He said they were short on male actors.
“Then she left and I stayed,” Mullet said. He has performed in more than 80 shows and has worked on the technical side for more than 100.
“I had fun. I made good friends and it gave me the opportunity to do something completely different (from his job as an engineer for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company),” Mullet said. After he retired from CEI in 1998 Mullet took the part-time technical liaison position at the center.
Mullet said he has other people handle the technical side of the equation when he is in one of the plays. “It’s awfully hard to do both,” he said.
“Tim Dorman does an awful lot and I will call people to build sets,” Mullet said.
A lot of the technical liaison position is the day-to-day operation of the theater. “A lot of it is housekeeping around the theater,” he said of making sure there is enough lumber and screws to build each set.
Creating sets to meet the needs of each director and each play is where the challenge comes in for Mullet. “That’s the fun of it, to be creative, take a director’s concept and create something to stand the abuse the actors will give it,” he said.
Communicating with the director is the key to a successful set development plan. “One of my biggest problems is learning from the director how they are going to use it (the set),” Mullet said.
The added challenge is two weeks to create the set. Ideally he starts thinking about the idea several weeks prior, but it doesn’t always work that way.
“I like to get an idea. I build the thing in my mind,” Mullet said.
“On Sunday I tear down the old set and build the new one on Monday,” he said of the cyclical nature of his work.
The other side of the technical liaison position is coordinating lighting throughout the show. “The hard part of lighting is finding out what you have to light and when,” Mullet said.
Mullet said he listens to the script on Sunday and then Monday they have a stop-and-go rehearsal to detail the lighting of each scene.
He said the lighting was done on a manual board for each scene. “I couldn’t do that,” he said with a laugh. “We bought a (lighting) board that was programmable so we could set the scenes and hit the go button,” Mullet said.
While making the sets Mullet said he tries to keep the pieces standard sizes. “It goes together easy and comes apart fairly easy,” he said.
Mullet said he tries to keep costs down. “(I) do it for nothing if I can,” he said.
Forgetting lines is always a challenge for actors. “We made up stuff for awhile until we got to a place when we could go on,” he said of a night doing the ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’.”
There are also light moments that teach lessons as well.
Once when playing Luther Billis in “South Pacific,” Mullet said he wore a hula skirt and a coconut bra on stage. “All the cast was laughing at me and that was a good lesson,” he said of the fact that it was okay to be laughed at because that was what was supposed to happen.
“I try to stay on script as much as possible, but the actors say I’m all over the place,” Mullet said.
He said the weekly work load of his technical liaison position changes significantly.
During the busy set building weeks Mullet said he works as many as 60 hours a week, but off weeks can be as little as five hours a week.
Mullet said he makes sure he is available as much as possible. “I try to be at every shoe every night in case something goes wrong,” he said.
While Mullet’s daughter Janet left Ashtabula she didn’t leave the theater. She is now the general manager of Northlight Theater on the north side of Chicago, Mullet said.
He said his daughter Jodi works in a lab at the University of Michigan.