We Theatre People: Techies
You rarely catch a glimpse of the people who really run the show.
Level-headed, organized, effective and no-nonsense, stage managers are the crises wranglers who keep the theatre world on schedule. Backing up the stage manager in every direction is a whole team of theatre-makers, from production managers and technical directors to stealth stage crews and operators of various sound/light boards and more. These unsung heroes move immovable objects, solve problems creatively on the fly, and create stage magic to help suspend audience disbelief. You want these people — affectionately known as “techies” — in your life.
Techies are always more than they appear (after all, they disappear on purpose wearing all ninja-black in dark spaces). They are ultra-capable, patient team players. To help Austin get to know its techies better, this page will always have a few extra photos — since techies don’t usually have websites/online portfolios like actors/designers/playwrights. Join us in celebrating these under-acknowledged theatre-makers the next time you go see a show! Try to find the stage manager (you likely won’t — they’re busy) or a crew member (vanishing back into darkness after completing a task) and thank them for being quietly awesome. Techies help make Austin a theatre city.
A couple of problem solvers: Lisa Goering (stage manager, costume builder, actor/singer and more) and Steve Williams (actor/singer, technical director, lighting/set designer and builder and more).
Theatre Love: Meet Multi-Faceted Couple Lisa Goering & Steve Williams
Honestly, it boggles the mind to consider the collective skills abiding under your roof, Lisa and Steve. How did you two meet?
Steve: At a theatre, of course. ZACH’s first rehearsal for RENT. I thought she was cute. I was acting in that show, and she was stage managing.
Lisa: Truth be told, I’d been given advance press by my friend Jessie Douglas, the ASM and also a cast member. Jessie had met Steve at a cast meet-n-greet. “I’ve met the guy for you,” she raved and started in on a list of his positive qualities, but I interrupted with “NO WAY.” I was done dating actors. During rehearsals, though, I realized that she had been right. RENT was the official first time we met, although we figured out we had been in the same room at the same time at least three times before that, so the universe clearly had a plan.
Steve: Yes, I’d seen some shows Lisa had crewed. And I took pictures for Austin Shakespeare’s production of the Scottish play at The Rollins while she was working on that show.
Wait, Steve, you’re also a photographer? Is there anything you can’t do?
Steve: Yes. Yes there is. I can’t afford to buy a house in the Austin real estate market. Speaking of RENT!
Lisa in a tech booth on headset calling cues as an Actors Equity Association Stage Manager.
Speaking of that, how do you both make a living doing theatre in Austin?
Lisa: It’s a balancing act. Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, I do manage to cobble together a full year’s worth of work between stage management for theater and opera, and costume building and alterations for other companies, including regional companies outside of Texas. It’s feast-or-famine — I usually have a couple of gigs going at one time and then go a month with no work at all. But I like the variety and having different levels of responsibility at different jobs.
Steve hamming it up to keep his students engaged in online learning during the pandemic. We should all have teachers like Steve!
Steve: I don’t make a living doing theater; I make a living teaching music to elementary public school children. Of course, I can’t help but bring my theatre experience into teaching — it’s a performance every day! For me and for them. I added lighting and curtains to my classroom so it feels more like a stage. I was able to bring even more of my technical theatre experience to my teaching during pandemic online learning. I did a video series with vintage music... My theatre income supplements my teaching salary. I have done set designs for a couple of companies in Austin and I am the TD (Technical Director) for Trinity Street Players, where I have been involved for almost a decade. I met their artistic director doing a show at the Georgetown Palace. I kind of fell in love with the space and what that company stands for: theater for all people. It’s been my theatrical home in Austin ever since. I’ve designed sets and lights there, and I’ve been TD for about three years.
What was your favorite-ever theatre experience anywhere? And why?
Steve: In Austin, I think my favorite so far has been Ragtime at ZACH. We were opening the new theater, I was playing a role I never thought I’d get to play, I got to hang upside down, come up from the trap, learn to do magic tricks, I got rolled onstage, and I witnessed opening night applause after the prologue — which was like no applause I’ve ever experienced as a performer before in my life. That show was a wonderful experience. Plus, my wife worked on it, too, and working together is a treat.
Lisa: I’m going to have to second Ragtime as a singular experience in theater. It certainly was a special show to me prior to getting to work on it myself —
Steve: — yeah, yeah, yeah! Because we both saw the original production in Los Angeles in the 90s – maybe on the exact same day!
Lisa: I would say that working on that show was certainly one of the high points of my career to date. It was a lot to take on: There was a steep learning curve because it was a huge show in an entirely new space with new technology that most of the people working on the show had never used before. There was a lot of stress and very little sleep involved, but it was a show that I loved dearly and I was getting a chance to work with some of my favorite people including Steve. And, as Steve said, on opening night the applause after the opening number stopped the show. I waited as long as I could before calling the next cues. It was an incredibly magical moment.
Ragtime at ZACH Theatre. Photo by Kirk R. Tuck via CTX Live Theatre.
You often work as an Equity stage manager, Lisa. How is it different from a non-Equity?
Lisa: When working on an Equity production, there are parameters and rules that need to be followed: things like when breaks need to be taken and for how long, and how many hours you can work in a day or week. Texas is a right-to-work state, so for a time before I joined Equity, I was able to work on an Equity contract on a show-to-show basis, but still have the freedom to take non-Equity jobs. Whenever I would work a non-Equity show, I still tried to run the rehearsals and tech as if it were Equity, because I do believe that many of those rules are for the good and safety of people involved.
Lisa at the Stage Manager’s table during a rehearsal.
How do you keep a cool head when things go wrong or people are jerks during a production?
Lisa: Ha! Well, we all have our moments. Mostly, I try to remember that ratcheting up a problematic situation will not do anyone any good, and will eat up precious time. Even with the largest of personalities, listening to a problem (even if you completely disagree) with focus and empathy goes most of the way toward solving it.
What's the worst nightmare thing that ever happened during a show in which you were involved?
Lisa: I stage managed a show for the Flaming Idiots, and I had assigned myself the preset of putting the confetti in their air blowers, because it had to be done in a really specific way. One night I went to do it and was called away just before, and then forgot! I remembered about a half second before they went onstage for that bit, and all of the blood ran out of my body. The bit went on for a couple of minutes before they got to the confetti moment – the high point of the segment — so I had plenty of time to curse myself. I put it out to everyone on headset to see if someone had an idea, and Leon Presley came up with a brilliant solution, and executed it flawlessly – I can’t imagine the audience had any inkling it wasn’t exactly as it was supposed to be. I still shudder when I think of it, though.
A day in the life of an actor.
Steve: As a performer, I’ve had the usual moments onstage of forgetting lyrics and having to improvise lines here and there — nothing too terrible. But behind the scenes, there’ve been a few harrowing moments. One that comes to mind was working on production of Peter Pan, an original adaptation. As in all Peter Pans, there is the flying moment in the show which you want to be magical. Our crew built a heavy-duty framework for flying Peter and Wendy upstage while John and Michael flew downstage. 2x4 blocks were placed as spacers above this frame. During one of the performances, while I raised Michael off the stage for his flight, I watched as one of these blocks came loose and struck Peter in the head. He kept singing and flying like a champ with tears streaming down his face. Certainly, in the moment, I was worried, but he was no worse for wear once the pain subsided.
You’ve both worked in many theatrical capacities, including acting. If you had to choose, would you rather be out front or behind the scenes?
Lisa: I’d rather work behind the scenes, though I haven’t ruled out performing, if the opportunity arose again. Working behind the scenes still has a level of artistry, and there’s a lot more organization in being a stage manager than an actor, and I am well-suited to that. There also tends to be a little bit more money, which is always a bonus.
Steve: Performing is less time consuming than set design, it is so rewarding to be part of an ensemble, and there is a finite amount of stuff to learn and do to create a character. Whereas when you’re responsible for the set, it feels a lot more immense and insurmountable when it’s just you doing the work and staying late. But it’s also pretty rewarding to create a design and see it realized. I like both.
Did you both go into theatre on purpose? Or did you accidentally fall into it like a tar pit and get stuck forever because it's endlessly interesting and changing -- and the people are so fun?
Tech booth reflections.
Steve: (laughs) That’s a leading question! In third grade, somehow my teachers decided I needed a solo dance number as Jack Frost in the school play. I’d never had a class or anything before that, but it got me thinking, “I want to do more of this!” The next thing I knew, I was in a class where we did Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and then I was in Sleeping Beauty during a summer, and then You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and then one show after another forever and ever.
Lisa: I fell into the tech side like a tar pit, because I wasn’t studying that; I was on an acting path in high school. But I do think theatre people are interesting, and I am fascinated by the way the theatre has the ability to continually reinvent itself. That has been particularly evident over this pandemic.
If you didn't do theatre, what would be your ideal job?
Steve: I already have a job that’s not theater, so my ideal job would be doing theater and getting paid more to do it! Touring with my wife across the country with her as the stage manager and me in the show would be ideal.
Lisa: I don’t know what my ideal job would be if I didn’t work in theater. I really enjoy costuming/building costumes, but that’s still theater-based. It’s hard to pick something that’s not connected to theater in some way!
Steve: What else would you do?
Lisa: I could bake cookies all day and people could buy them from me.
Steve: Her cookies are divine.
Agreed. How would you like to see Austin theatre grow in the next 10 years?
Steve: Theatre should represent all people well, providing a more diverse range of voices and stories. I would like to see it be a space of even more collaboration between companies and artists, which is why ATX Theatre is an important development. Also, this town needs more theatre and art spaces. With the building boom downtown, I just can’t believe no one is building a theatre or five! Austin should continue to support more spaces that are affordable, centrally located and easily accessible for all people.
Lisa: I would like to see more effort toward greener practices. So many industries in this country that are wasteful and theatre is definitely on that list, with the amount of paper and building materials and props that go into the landfill. Some sort of system should be developed that might take a little more time and effort, but would result in many more things being reused and fewer new things being purchased or built. I am also really excited to think that a significant virtual component has developed from people creating theatre in their homes and broadcasting on the internet, and I hope that continues because I think that live theatre should be something that people can access even if they are not able to get out of their homes.
Sun-dappled Lisa and Steve with their resplendent pup, Coalhouse.
Your dog is beyond adorable. How does he fit into the double theatre schedule? (Good boy, Coalhouse.)
Steve: Coalhouse has been to Trinity Street a couple of times — when I can keep an eye on him. We try to manage our time so we’re not both gone so much. That certainly hasn’t been a problem since March 2020. Coalhouse has not minded stay-at-home orders one bit.
Lisa: Coalhouse has come to work with me at the Zilker hillside theatre — he enjoys all the attention he gets there. Since Steve and I don’t get an opportunity to work on the same show together very often, one of us is usually home in the evenings. We waited for a long time to get a dog. My cousin’s dog had an unplanned litter and she posted pictures of the puppies and we fell completely in love.
Speaking of love, Happy 5th Anniversary,
Lisa & Steve! Thank you for opening
up your lives to ATX Theatre, and
for being skilled, flexible, loyal, and
kind Austin theatre people.