"When the actors do a good job, they put pressure on me to equal them, and I put pressure on them to equal my work. That's what makes it fun." — Mike Halderman
EH: How did you become a technical director? Isn’t your degree in music?
MH: I have a teaching credential in music from Sacramento State University. I taught for a while and then I got involved in community theater.
EH: So then you went to SOU to the undergraduate program?
MH: Yes, in 1990. My wife was a teacher and I had kids in high school. I went to Southern Oregon University (SOC at the time) to be an actor. I was doing some technical theater classes, and I said, “I’m really good at this.” I decided that I could graduate in two years because I already had a degree, and I didn’t have to do any of the undergraduate pre-requisites. I took lighting, sound, and scene design, theater business management, costuming, makeup — I did a painting internship at OSF one semester. I graduated with a BFA in scene design.
EH: Were you into drawing and painting before you got to SOU?
MH: I started reading “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” years ago, but I never finished it; I had done a few drawings, but that’s all. The first class I had in the Theater Department was called theater dendering. It began with drawing and shading a ball to teach light and shading. Soon I was drawing theater sets. Then I took theater painting; I was pretty good at it. The first show I did for the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, I called up Craig Hudson, who designs the sets, and asked, “Do you know anybody that could use some help?” He said that he was doing a show, and that I could come and paint sets. The show was Stud’s Terkel’s “Working.” We did a lot of the big WPA Conservation Corps style murals. I built some of the scenery so that I could paint it. The next year I took on more and more responsibility. I looked in the program and saw that I was listed as the technical director.
EH: What technical limitations do you have in the Oregon Cabaret Theatre?
MH: We basically don’t have any fly space. The stage is fairly small and not deep, so the actors may not have cross-over space. We don’t have rigging; anything that has to go up and down needs to be custom-rigged. Some of our scenery is in the style of a pop-up book — layer upon layer, folding out, flat scenery painted to look slightly round. Occasionally we use roll drops that sometimes malfunction during shows. When I see it, I quickly run and somehow get backstage, and climb up there in the side masking, fighting like crazy to get it to work again, while the show is going on. I’ve learned how to keep that from happening.
I like the Oregon Cabaret Theatre because the audience is small and close to the stage. Many of our shows involve the audience. We talk to the audience and sometimes bring audience members on stage. OCT is unique in that way.
I do a good job on my set because, if members of the audience are eating dinner for an hour and a half before the actors step on the stage, they are looking at the scenery. If you’re looking at good scenery, then you expect the show to be good. When the actors do a good job, they put pressure on me to equal them, and I put pressure on them to equal my work. That’s what makes it fun; and of course, there is the audience. I just build sets and have fun. I make big sculptures that last for a couple of months.