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The Perfect Stage Crew is theater's newest and best reference for crew sponsors and technical directors; available from the publisher, Allworth Press, or at

The Prefect, um, Perfekt, um, Perfect Stage Crew

Local Teacher Writes of Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs Backstage

John Kaluta sits among a mass of papers - sketches, photographs, notes and AutoCAD drawings. He's busily adjusting, editing and revising a somewhat haphazard set of plans for Montgomery Blair High School's latest theatrical offering, the musical The Merry Widow. "We have three big sets, and several smaller things to build. We've studied some other productions and stole a few ideas, and we'll let the kids get some of their own design ideas in. We have to be done in a couple of weeks."

If any group can pull off this enormous undertaking it's Mr. Kaluta and his "perfect" stage crew. Recently immortalized in Kaluta's book, The Perfect Stage Crew, Blair's high school "techies" are a dedicated lot. They'll stay late, building and painting the set pieces, repairing and focusing the lights and placing microphones both on the set and on the performers. It's a lot of work for youngsters who haven't even received a learner's permit yet. Folks who doubt the abilities of Blair's high school stage crew need only to glance at photographs from the last production, West Side Story, to learn the truth. Blair students have earned a reputation for putting on exceptionally good shows.

"West Side Story has an incredible built in popularity. But if the show is bad the word'll be out before the curtain even opens, and nobody will show up," says Kaluta. The Blair crew pulled out all of the stops, building an authentic two story fire escape for Tony and Maria, a one thousand square foot painted highway scene for the rumble and a block of four story high apartments for the finale. The line for tickets stretched out around the lobby and out the door, with one parent anxiously holding up a "NEED 2" sign. "You pick the scenes that have to be really good," says Kaluta, letting one of his set design secrets slip. "Like in Guys & Dolls, the sewer scene had better look pretty cool, pretty real. We got some damaged 'Sonotube' from a supplier in Beltsville to make the sewer pipes." Without the budget found on Broadway Kaluta and his crew have to be frugal. They'll repaint and reuse set pieces and scavenge up a remarkable array of props, borrowing doors from Kaluta's home on more than one occasion. It's part of the price to be paid when you attempt to put on a great show.

Kaluta has collected and published these stage secrets in his first book, The Perfect Stage Crew, published by Allworth Press. The Perfect Stage Crew is a book for anyone that finds themselves 'just helping out' backstage; parents with a budding actress child, teachers given play sponsorship duties, talent show arrangers, and community and church leaders with shows to produce. The intricacies of the theater world are unraveled and sorted, the equipment is repaired, the sets are built, the intercom is fixed, the cues are set; all with the help of The Perfect Stage Crew. There are even pointers about publicity and making souvenir T-shirts.

Kaluta admits that Blair's crew is far from perfect, "The publisher decided on the title in spite of the pressure it puts on my kids. But, they're dedicated, hard working, and if there is a mistake they'll go back and fix it for the next show. My job is just to tell them what to do, and to see to it that they don't hurt themselves. They usually come through." And so it is with The Merry Widow, the West Side apartments from last spring are being repainted, transformed into Maxim's Parisian Restaurant, the rumble scene now an elegant gated garden.

"Break a leg," someone says, the curtain goes up on April 30th.

The Perfect Stage Crew is theater's newest and best reference for crew sponsors and technical directors; available from the publisher, Allworth Press, or at