Any staff member with a question about what is going on onstage, in the rehearsal halls, in the alley behind the theater, or anywhere else in the building knows that there is only one person has the answer: Mo Chapman. Mo, who was one of our regular stage managers in the late nineties and early aughts, has been the production logistics coordinator since 2006 and is the keeper of the calendars at The 5th. Quick with a joke and a smile, Mo is a fixture of The 5th Avenue staff, loved by everyone she works with.
Your first gig at The 5th was in 1999 as a child wrangler on Oliver!—what was that like?
This was back in the Frank Young days, and I come in and meet these kids, and there were only 8 or 9 of them, not like our recent production. I realized that they need to be taken care of in a way that they didn’t feel like they were being babysat. So I brought in puzzles—and the adults would come over and sit and do puzzles with the kids! There were live chickens on that show for the “Who Will Buy” number and I remember thinking “Well at least I’m not in charge of the chickens because I’d much rather deal with the kids!”
What was your transition into your current role like in 2006?
It was exciting. My last show here was My Fair Lady—that was the last time I stage managed—and I went on tour, and when I came back, they were looking to create this kind of a job and they thought of me when they put this job together, and tailored it to what my strong points are. I was very excited to come back here, and everything was different. The theater was now under David Armstrong. It felt like the theater had grown up.
How has The 5th continued to evolve?
It’s bigger now, and everything is grander. Not only have the production values increased, but the caliber of people that we are able to bring in is higher. In some ways it’s easier—we didn’t always have DAT5, which is of course our rehearsal space under the theater, short for Downstairs at The 5th. Back in the day we rehearsed in a variety of places—the Egyptian Theater on Capitol Hill, TPS at Seattle Center. Now, everything is here. It’s easier to do costume fittings. It’s easier to do interviews. We’ve really upped our game. It’s like the Wizard of Oz—even before you know that Oz is coming and everything is sepia-toned, you’re engrossed and thinking “wow, this is really cool.” And then bam! You’re in Oz! I feel like The 5th is in Oz now.
So The 5th is more state of the art?
Well, we still have a ways to go—there is some very exciting new technology out there. For instance, we have an analogue sound board, which is the equivalent of having a rotary telephone! You know? It works, but it will be an exciting step forward when we update that. And LED lights and moving lights are growing more and more common around the country, and we have some, but I would love to see us really utilizing that technology.
What makes The 5th a special place to work?
I’m really proud of the theater and I’m proud of the way things have changed over the years and I’m proud of the work that we do now. The whole Rising Star Project? I never had that kind of thing in high school, and that those opportunities are there and that I get to be a part of it, that makes me feel really good. I’m proud of the theater for putting that program into place. The whole Adventure Musical Theater program has grown enormously over the years! I’m always amazed by the way the community wants to be a part of this theater, and that we open the doors for them. And they want to come in, and they want to come back. That makes me feel very good about working here.
What do you think surprises people the most about professional theater?
When you see a show, you see the actors onstage, and you see the lights and the set and hear the music. But what you don’t see is the sheer number of people it takes to put a show onstage. People don’t realize the scope of what it takes to put on a show, or the number of people with specialized skills it takes to make this happen. And that applies even outside of our staff—for instance, sometimes the local parking garages stay open late for us so that people don’t have to worry at late rehearsals about their cars getting locked in. And they may think, “Oh, we’re just keeping the garage open,” but I write them later and say “It does take a village, and you don’t know what a tremendous part you play.”
And it’s a pretty big village—what do you think of all of these people you work with?
I always think that time goes by so quickly because life here is so episodic in so many ways—you bring people in, you do a show, you might bring them back again, but when you finish a show, it’s finished and you’re moving on to the next thing. That may not always be the easiest way to have relationships with people, but everyone here handles it really well. And the respect that people have for one another here is really unique. And when there’s something that’s hard and we all have to share it together, you just learn how to rally round and how you can help each other out. That’s not something that’s common. And there’s something to be said about people who come and they leave, and they leave happy, whether they were staff or crew or audience. I hear people on the street say “Oh, I was at The 5th and I had such a good time.” And they don’t know me from Adam, but they’re excited about their trip to The 5th. That makes me feel good. That’s a good day.
By BRIDGET MORGAN, Public Relations & Communications Manager
Photo by Mark Kitaoka