Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes, and the advance planning required to produce the semi-annual plays at the Benicia Old Town Theater? It all starts with Benicia Old Town Theatre Group (BOTTG) volunteers and the selection of a play.

In the spring of 2010, the “ayes” were in the majority and the die was cast for the spring 2011 production of The Nerd. After months of reading dozens of possibilities, BOTTG’s play selection committee chose one of three recommendations put forward by their members. The process, which has led to almost one hundred productions in forty seven years (since 1964) had began anew.

Early publicity about which play has been chosen for production is sent to local media outlets and event publications, as well as a call for a director. Likely candidates are interviewed by another BOTTG committee. Clinton Vidal, a former professional actor and recent addition to the theatre group, was chosen for The Nerd. The next step for the theatre group’s board of directors is to set the production’s financial budget.

In the meantime, design work for graphics is begun. Dan Morgan designs the graphics used in publicity, on BOTTG’s website and on the theater programs. Paul Zill, set designer for the last five years, had relocated to Idaho prior to the production of The Nerd, but he agreed to submit a design for the show. He even sent a three-dimensional set model via UPS, and he would ultimately return for a week to help in the set-building process.

Open auditions for all roles are held a couple of months prior to a show’s opening. Notices are sent to local newspapers, a Bay Area theater magazine and BOTTG’s list of prior actor hopefuls. After three days of auditions, director Vidal was able to fill all the roles for The Nerd and rehearsals began within two weeks. The all-important publicity job is handled by Dyanne Vojvoda. Postcards are addressed and mailed to BOTTG’s mailing list. Meanwhile, costumes are designed and fitted and hand props are collected. Dyanne and her crew got busy on The Nerd’s costumes while the hand props were collected by Cindy Smith and other volunteers.

BOTTG has a shop in the Benicia Industrial Park where work on a set begins. Transportable pieces are built there, then moved to the B.D.E.S. Hall when it is possible to physically move them in. For The Nerd, set construction at the B.D.E.S. Hall by a volunteer crew, mostly retired, was intense for four or five days. Then the set painters take over. The goal is to get the cast onto a finished set as soon as possible before opening date so there’s plenty of time for rehearsals.

While all of this is occurring, tickets are being sold. Volunteers are scheduled for necessary jobs on the backstage crew, front desk, and as bartenders for the production’s four week run. Lights are hung and focused, props and furniture moved to the theater, and the bar gets set up. Only then is the hall emptied of all the debris of the preceding weeks, cleaned by the janitorial staff, and set up for the Opening Night Champagne Gala. Whew! What a relief and a joy to finally see the finished product.

After the eleven scheduled performances of The Nerd, the set was struck and moved out, props and costumes cleaned and stored, the bar packed away, and the hall emptied, all within a week. The Nerd was history, but tasks had already begun for BOTTG’s fall production, The Voice of the Prairie, opening October 21. The wheel turns. Like the coming of spring, each new show carries the promise of discovery and creative delight.

Dan Clark is a long-time member of BOTTG.

Benicia Old Town Theatre Group has won numerous awards for their productions, including the prestigious Solano County ARTY award. The group welcomes new members, and invites all members to become involved with productions.

The Voice of the Prairie opens October 21, 2011
Directed by Casy Cann

Friday & Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm
Opening Night Champaign Gala $25
General admission $20

Seniors 62+ and students with ID $18
Tickets available at the door,
online or at the Benicia Chamber of Commerce

Doors open one hour before curtain
No Host Bar • Snacks/desserts available for purchase

B.D.E.S. Hall
140 West J Street, Benicia •707.746.1269

The plays produced during BOTTG’s forty-seven year history
consist of a wide variety of cultural offerings, including:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Love Letters
Bullshot Crummond
On Golden Pond
The Lion in Winter
Little Shop of Horrors
Sugar Babies
The Mousetrap
The Matchmaker
Blythe Spirit
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
A Chorus Line
Bottoms Up!