Meet a Savoyard: Garth Schafer

King Gama in Princess Ida (2013)

King Gama in Princess Ida (2013)

I was introduced to Gilbert & Sullivan through hearing melodies over the years, but I hit the big time when I came to see SCA friends in HMS Pinafore. I knew the melodies for Little Buttercup, before knowing the words.

I had already done some theater. I knew that I could carry a tune without it falling on the floor and crashing into bits.

I started with the Savoyards in the 1994 or 1995 season. First show was Ruddigore in 1997. All the ghosts had to stand behind portraits during most of second act the first week, as the painted portraits were not finished until after the opening weekend. Very difficult to stand sufficiently still.

I will probably do lights for Iolanthe, partly because I do lights for Rocky Horror Show with Stage 62 in November, and want to be sure the lighting grid stays in good shape. Some lighting people really mess the grid up. I often spend extra time fixing lights, changing bulbs, and moving misplaced Fresnels and their electrical circuits.

I would to love to attempt to do Iolanthe special effects with the opening scene completely in the dark, illuminated only by fairies with light-up wings. This would require the orchestra memorize the overture, so it can be played in the dark. That’s how the original Savoy Theater production opened. And an illuminated magic wand for the Fairy Queen.

I never had formal training in music or lighting, though I served a form of apprenticeship. Learned something of acting from Glen Garth, with The Acting Company, in the early 90s, in Lawrenceville. He also showed me much about theatrical lighting and about working on a shoestring budget. It was a 3/4 round stage (audience on 3 sides), with lights hung on trees behind the audience. It had 12 electrical circuits for control, which places serious limits on lighting special scenes. When I started at Savoyards, they had only 12 circuits and many fewer lights than now, but Savoyards have grown to where it is much easier to light artistically.

One of the things I really like is the way Savoyards do the music, how well we re-create it symphonically as well as in singing. When Guy Russo came in, the orchestra started to sound really good. I also love the wit that Gilbert brings to it. The humor makes it very enjoyable. Even in some of the more serious moments it’s never far away.

My favorite Gilbert & Sullivan opera is the second show I did–a most fun time–Pirates of Penzance. Noblemen wanting to be pirates, but don’t have the stomach to kill. Leap year silliness. Closest to a flawless and believable plot.

Pinafore is fun, but there are problems–Rafe & Captain, same age? Looked alike as children? Little Buttercup, an adult when they were children, now marries the Captain. Some directors make Buttercup blind, so it’s clear why the mixup. Some play off it, making the men look radically different so the mixup looks even more impossible.

Iolanthe probably works, but I don’t know any magical fairies.

It is great that the Savoyards are continuing to grow artistically and retain the excellence in music they have been known for. I hope we continue to grow in the box office enough to stay another 100 years.

I did meet my wife, Janette, through the Savoyards. I was producing Iolanthe. Janette auditioned, and fell in love with my hair, which was long and silky at the time. She volunteered for every production meeting that involved tech, despite being poor at tools. “Can I help? Can I spend time with you making a great production?” The rest is history.

By Eric Starbuck

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.