The unsung heroics from production of The Lieutenent of Inishmore

The sexier technical parts of this show - a cute girl covered in gore wielding two handguns, a blood-soaked guy clutching a dead cat prop, the gunfights, the special effects rigs that shoot blood at a rate of 80psi - have been chronicled here, on the Jobsite blog and in a feature story in the St. Pete Times.

Still, there are loads of hours spent every night on making all the behind-the-scenes preparations and even more hours spent cleaning and resetting everything after the show. This work is not so much magic as it is just plain ol' elbow grease.

I may be in the directors chair, but with so much to do and such a solid tech crew taking care of things, I recognize how little I know about how some things work or the time that goes into making it happen nightly.  I'm around, but usually just feel in the way during setup and breakdown.  So, I decided to ask everyone just exactly how their night goes whenever they come to the theater. They're surely not getting paid enough for all of this, the least they can get is proper credit.

If you see the show, the first thing you'll notice afterwards is the stage manager (Jaime Giangrande-Holcom) and the two ASMs (David Valdez and Katie Grey) scurry out with buckets of warm water, mops, giant squeegees and lots and lots of rags as the audience is still exiting the theater. Time is of the essence - every minute that blood sits out, the harder it gets to clean.  Large plastic bags are brought out and maimed bodies are loaded up into them like a really weird crime scene. The set starts getting scrubbed from top to bottom and all the blood is eventually worked down into a trough, and then from trough into a bucket, where it's then disposed.  Bits of 'entrails' and spent shell casings are picked out as they go for recycling or reusing. As the water activates the baby detergent in the blood (primarily Karo syrup with chocolate syrup, food coloring and Chris Holcom's "secret ingredient") the whole theater starts to get an odd sorta-sweet, sorta-nursery smell to it. "Smells like chocolate baby," so says Katie.

But that grisly post-show entertainment is only part of the story that's actual going on every night, it's just the only part the audience is privy too. We even set everything for intermission behind a big, black curtain - the first time an act curtain has been used in that space, or any Jobsite Theater show.

For actress Kari Goetz, who plays the pop-gun toting Mairead, her night begins at the theater about an hour and 45 minutes before curtain.  She checks all of her props, which includes that pop-gun (embellished with a tube of lipstick that fits in the shoulder strap, natch), a mangled cat prop, a knife, a cheese grate, an iron and a few other equally random items. She and her fellow actors also run through every bit of violence in the show - from hair grabs to shoves to outright firefights.

She has enough to do in the show playing her part, but all the actors are also contending with other assigned duties when not needed on stage. Initially Kari helped set the body-mounted blood mortars that several of the actors wear, but as systems have gotten smoother and faster, she's now only responsible for reminding everyone backstage to insert their earplugs before re-entering.

She leaves a little over an hour after the show is finished. First she cleans all of the blood off the walls with a warm, wet rag and then moves on to other needs.  She may or may not assist Matt Lunsford (Padraic) with his major post-show duty - completely field-stripping and cleaning the guns piece by piece, as they tend to get completely covered.  Some of those other cleaning duties?  Well, I'll let her speak for herself:

I also clean Padriac's jacket and knife, both of our shoes and the cats. That is the most disgusting thing to do - I took a shower with Wee Thomas last night because we wanted him nice and clean and able to sit in the sun for three days. Holy shit - that gave me nightmares. I swear to Christ I think taking a shower with that sick fecking cat staring at me with his one eye while I squeezed blood out of his manky ass fur is the reason I am sick today. Fecking dead fecking cat. Goddamn that was gross. Trying to get the blood off me and out of my hair while balancing this weighted muppet-of-death around my neck with the red blood oozing out of his fur. It was like Psycho - only replace the knife with a dead cat.

Good times, eh?

Most of the actors have stories similar to Kari's.  Ned Averill-Snell spends quality time with the Wee Thomas prop every night during my curtain speech, when he loads the cats brains up in to head cavity.  If he does it before I start, he's learned they stiffen up too much and won't fall out right on cue. Jason Evans checks over all the weapons when he gets in, oils and cleans when necessary and makes sure several of the guns get loaded.

Effects designer/actor Chris Holcom along with Katie and David also go through a lengthy to-do list nightly, and also tend to arrive about 2 hours before curtain every night.  Condoms have to be filled with blood as do the bottles assigned to each actor that are used to load their rigs. All of the rigs themselves are also pressurized to the right PSI, and all that's left is for the actor to strap on the pressurized rig and load it with the bottle marked for them before going back on.  The bodies have to be reassembled from the last night's cleaning and all the clothes put back on, which costume designer Katrina Stevenson has just dropped off from washing.

Oh, and poor Katrina ... perhaps the lamest job of them all.  She pops in about an hour and a half before curtain nightly and drops off all of the laundry, which isn't just costumes but also covers rags, towels, curtains, blankets, drop cloths and whatever else happens to get soaked in blood that night. She then puts everything where it needs to go, hangs, steams/irons when needed, sets wigs out and goes home for a few hours.  After the show she returns and picks every bit of that back up, but now it's all 10x heavier due to being soaked with all that blood. She does at least 3 loads of laundry every night (typically starting around 11pm) while she also hand soaks and cleans items like shoelaces, wigs and belts

Jaime is always the last one out.  As all the assignments get finished up, folks check in with her and then either pitch a hand in with something else, or they head home. Once everything is clean enough looking, that usually still means there are at least three more mop trips for Jaime over every surface, to ensure nothing is the least bit sticky. Then she mops again first thing when she returns the next day.

I told her she'd hate me for this job a long time ago, and I'm sure she has to be getting there.  There's no half-stepping on any of this cleaning - if things get cleaned improperly (like the guns or the effects rigs) they are ruined.  It's as simple as that.

"Will it never fecking end?"  Indeed it will, to the relief of all these folks, I'm sure.  The Lieutenent of Inishmore is only on stage through Sun., April 12. As much as these guys love this show, I'm quite positive they'll be counting the days til they don't need to endure all this anymore.  Make it worth their while, and fill that theater for 'em.

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