Stagecraft Magic at Harlequin Productions

marko-bruceby Ned Hayes for OLY ARTS

Harlequin Productions has recently been posting behind-the-scenes updates with the hashtag #BestCrewEver. There’s justification for these humblebrags.

In 2016, the backstage crew at Harlequin, headed by technical director Marko Bujeaud, was fortunate to add the very capable Bruce Haasl as assistant technical director. Haasl is an accomplished actor who served as longtime technical director at Capital Playhouse and Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

Later this season, theatrical virtuoso Jill Carter, Bujeaud’s stagecraft mentor, returns to the Harlequin backstage team for the first Olympia mainstage production of My Name is Rachel Corrie. And this season, scenic designer Jeannie Beirne is again gracing their stage with her artistic magic.

Technical directors create an entire imaginative world from flickering lights and cloth, painted paper and plywood. They craft a powerful alternate reality that’s utterly convincing yet ephemeral.

A good set, says Bujeaud, “should be like a movie score that doesn’t draw attention to itself, but instead frames your art on stage, grounding the acting in a fully fleshed-out world.”

Last season, Bujeaud used a full revolve that has been built specifically for the Harlequin stage, a technical challenge outside the scope of many community-theater technical directors. Haasl has surmounted similar challenges: For years, he found ways to create multistory sets inside Capital Playhouse. When he moved to Tacoma Musical Playhouse, he vaulted into the world of full-size proscenium designs for Shrek and other Broadway-scale shows.

Yet these master artists brag about each other rather than their own accomplishments.

Here’s Bujeaud talking about Haasl: “It’s really great to have someone on board at Harlequin with so much design and practical experience… Because of Bruce’s acting background, he has a good understanding of what actors need onstage.”

Here’s Haasl talking about Bujeaud:  “I appreciate so much the level of quality of Harlequin’s shows. The team strives to make the shows professional and beautiful and interesting. I am looking forward to learning more here!”

“It takes lots of hands on deck to make a pro­duction work,” adds Bujeaud. Haasl and Bujeaud collaborate with artist Jeannie Beirne, while Matthew Moeller and Miles Pendleton are their current go-to build crew.

Backstage volunteers have included Dan Konopaski and Ken Vandver. Bujeaud also names past contributors Jill Carter and master electrician Kate Arvin, as well as current production manager Gina Salerno. He adds James Bass, Toby Batcheldor, Nat Rayman and Simon Sharmon as key build crew contributors—along with early employees Megan Kappler and Nick Shellman.

Bujeaud also speaks glowlingly of Harlequin co-founder Linda Whitney, the feather in Harlequin’s cap, who in years past designed every show herself.

In fact, the show design for The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a Whitney original.

“My first job at Harlequin was scenic painting on Two Gentlemen of Verona over 20 years ago,” explains Bujeaud. “The first thing I helped build was this very same set for Two Gents. For this production we are using the same design by Linda Whitney. It’s a very clever design.”

As Two Gentlemen of Verona opens again on the Harlequin stage in their 25th season, there won’t be many selfies from the capable backstage crew. Occasionally, you’ll see a #BestCrewEver backstage note posted from the Harlequin account.

For Bujeaud and Haasl, that’s just stating a fact. The magic of the theater they do requires such collaborative genius.