Faces of ALBA: Don Myers, production manager
Don Myers has long been the production manager for ALBA’s spring event.
What do you do as a production manager?
I oversee the technical and presentational aspects of the event and coordinate with both in-house and outside contractors to make sure that everyone is communicating with each other and aware of their responsibilities on the event. I set the schedule for the day of the event and do my best to keep us on schedule by dealing with unexpected issues, preferably in advance or as soon as they occur.
How did you get interested in working in theater?
My mother, who was a model and singer, encouraged my sister and me to perform when we were very young. From early childhood we would entertain at grange halls and convalescent hospitals over the holidays. In my teens, I was lucky to go to a remarkable junior high school that was devoted to its drama department and put on major musical productions with amazing sets and costumes. I acted in nearly every school production through high school. After high school, I attended one year of junior college but found it disappointing and felt like I had wasted a year of my life so I began working in community theater and then moved on to semi-professional productions. In 1980 I stage managed my first show in my hometown and realized that I loved that aspect of theatre as much as performing.
How did you break into production management?
After leaving home in 1984 and spending the summer months performing in summer stock in Salinas California, I went to visit my sister in Los Angeles. While there, I auditioned for the role of Curly in a production of Oklahoma and got the part. It was then that I decided to stay in LA. For two years I took acting classes and did stage management. A friend of mine, who was the original set designer for Jackie Mason’s The World According to Me,! asked me to help on the load-in of the show. From that I was hired onto the running crew and three months later took over as the production stage manager. I soon started hearing rumors that the show was going to Broadway. With Jackie’s unwavering support I joined the union, moved to New York and started a new chapter in my life as a professional stage manager. I was 24 years old, very green and scared out of my wits but the show ended up being an enormous Broadway success and ran over two years. From 1986 to 2005, I stage managed all of Jackie Mason’s shows on Broadway and toured with him both nationally and internationally. I have been privileged to have worked with some of the best in the business including Sam Ellis, who was the production manager for the ALBA events for many years before I took over. I continue to stage manage both on and off-Broadway productions and have a show coming up called Character Man starring Jim Brochu. This is my third production with Mr. Brochu. Previously I worked with him on The Last Session and the award winning Zero Hour.
How did you get tied to ALBA and producing the spring event?
I was lucky to have worked as an assistant to Sam Ellis, who was the production manager for ALBA’s annual events for many years. After Sam closed down his production office on 2004, he passed the gig on to me and I have been doing it ever since. I look forward to working on the event every year, not only because I had a chance to meet some of the vets in the early years but because I think it’s important to keep their memory alive.
How has producing the spring event changed over the years?
The heart of the event and the reason that we do it hasn’t changed. We are there to honor the vets and the ideals that they fought for as well as honoring those that they have inspired and those who today fight for the values that they lived their lives for. What has changed from year to year are some of the amazing speakers and entertainers at the events. For many years we were fortunate to have Bruce Barthol leading the band for the event however last year he was on a European tour, so we changed things around a bit and had two bands. This year we plan on changing things around again to keep things fresh and new.
What are some highlights from working on ALBA events?
Some of my favorite years were when we still had a lot of the vets coming to the events and telling their stories. Many of them would sit on the stage or in the front row and we would pass the microphone around giving each of them a chance to talk. They would talk about their experiences and memories that they had of their days fighting for the Lincoln Brigade. I treasure those years. Now their stories are told by others but I consider myself privileged to have met some of them and heard them recount their memories directly. Moe Fishman in particular was a spectacular guy and could talk for hours telling some of his great stories. I was very sad when he passed.
I also enjoyed going out to do the event in San Francisco in 2008, the year that the memorial site was dedicated. That was an exciting year and it was great to be back working in a theater where I used see shows when I was a kid. Because we often hold the event in different venues from it has given us the opportunity to work with many new people on the stage crew. Often they have no idea who the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Vets were but after the event is over they always come up and thank us for educating them on the remarkable lives of these amazing men and women.