Experts in our community

Gus Gordon on theater

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Credit: RT McDonald Photography
Gus Gordon as Captain Hook in the 2019 Hoogland production of Peter Pan.

What they know that you should

Local celebrity Gus Gordon from Springfield has been involved in theater since 1980 and is celebrating his 41st year as a performer. He has been in well over 100 shows during that time, and has either been in, worked on, produced or directed over 200 productions.

He has been participating in local theater in Springfield since 1991 and is currently the executive director of the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

Theater takes much more work than you would think. Everyone enjoys going to the theater, but most don't realize just how much effort goes into those performances. "I don't think the general public realizes how much work it takes to put on a show," says Gordon. "Most performers work for years to perfect their craft, taking private voice lessons, dance classes and acting lessons." A good performer has to also be an athlete, especially in professional theater groups.

There is also the work that goes into pruducing and rehearsing a show. "Most local shows rehearse for eight to ten weeks, five or six nights a week, for three hours or more a night," says Gordon. "This is after the cast and crew have gotten off work or come home from a full day at school." In most cases the staff and production organizations have been planning and working on the show for over a year. "Shows don't just magically happen," Gordon adds. "There is a lot of thought, effort, and planning put into them."

Stage design can have a big impact on the experience.

"A really good set designer can make a small stage look bigger by the way they design the scenery," says Gordon. "One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is the use of forced perspective when designing, building and painting the set." Sections of the set that are supposed to be tall or far away are actually very small, to create the desired effect.

"You've probably seen this effect in movies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, when they are going through the long hallway that keeps getting smaller, or at theme parks like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Gordon adds. "The buildings actually get smaller at the top, which makes you think they are much taller than they are."

The stage manager is one of the most important jobs in the theater. The audience may not know about an important person some plays have called a stage manager. "They are the boss! The director is in charge during rehearsals, but once you are in performance, the stage manager takes over," says Gordon. "They are in charge of making the entire show run smoothly, from making sure the actors arrive on time, to calling the different light and sound cues. They are also the ones who are in charge of the scene changes, which can be a show itself.

The audience is an essential part of the theatergoing experience.

"We've really learned that this past year and half with all of the virtual performances we've staged," says Gordon. "The energy that comes from the audience inspires the performers and vice-versa. If the audience is actively engaged, it can be a thrilling experience. If the audience is quiet, it can be very challenging for a performer to keep the energy up without trying to overcompensate."

"I've been in comedies that have fallen flat as a pancake one night, and then been uproarious the next night," Gordon adds. "Nothing changed with the performers, but each audience has its own unique personality." –Joseph Copley

About The Author

Joseph Copley

Joseph Copley is production designer for Illinois Times and co-publisher of Activator, the music and arts magazine.

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