Behind the scenes: Magic Theatre’s Sara Huddleston

Marina Times - Program Notes
By Evalyn Baron
February 2012

We miss most of what’s going on in the world around us, don’t we. We enjoy graceful ducks floating on a placid pond and don’t even think about their webbed feet industriously paddling to keep them moving.

It’s certainly that way in the arts. Audiences pay for the final product, not the process. After all, to quote Hamlet, “The play’s the thing,” – not its rehearsals or design sketches.

But for some people, process is more intriguing than product.

Every now and then, this column will introduce you to one of these dedicated people paddling away behind the scenes here in the Marina District, at some of this country’s best arts organizations. They devote their days to being indirectly seen and heard; what they produce speaks for them. One such behind-the-scenes professional is Sara Huddleston, director of production and resident sound designer at Magic Theatre. Without her, the wonderful things you experience from that stage couldn’t happen. I sat down with Sara during a break in rehearsal for Magic’s Jan. 25 world premier of Lloyd Suh’s new play, Jesus in India.

Explain what a director of production does, Sara.

SH: Here at Magic Theatre, I wear many hats not usually worn by a production manager at larger theaters. I do a mix of things: determine with our artistic director, Loretta Greco, which designers are right for each show and hire them; draw up rehearsal schedules, the season calendar, so we can figure out how to make it all work time wise; as well as budgeting to make it all work financially. I make sure all the various designers –sets, props, costumes, sound – have clear communication lines open, so the physical production comes together on time. Our design elements are done at various locations throughout the area, so clear communication is key. There are so many elements to juggle.

What does that mean for Jesus in India?

SH: Reading and discussion of new works is an important part of the theater’s mission, so I participated in that process to choose this. Then I worked on fitting the show into our season budget and calendar, so all the best tech folks we needed would be available. A punk rock band playing live onstage in Jesus in India, for example, presented unique things to be dealt with by just the right people.

I make sure the show is rehearsed well, within its Actors Equity union hours, [and] get each rehearsal’s notes to the right people so it continues to be built to the needs of the show as it develops in rehearsal. It’s my job to make sure the actors are happy and working in the best creative environment possible; [I] make sure the script is kept up to date in rehearsal. New plays go through many changes on a daily basis.

We’re a small theater with a core staff, so there’s always a lot for all of us to do.

What is magical about working at Magic?

SH: Everyone’s opinion is valid and important here. That’s not true at most theaters. Here, we’re all after the same goal: to make the most exciting theatrical experience for our audiences. We’ve got great staff collaboration here. That alone is reason to come to work everyday. In my job, in theater in general, every day is something different. Every show has different problems to solve.

Where does design of sound fit in?

SH: With Magic’s current sound set-up, we work toward making the sound an entire stage-filled experience, as opposed to the sound coming from only a couple of speakers, thus creating more of an environment. There’s tone, ambient noise, guiding the audience ears into moods with certain kinds of sounds. There are “practicals,” like doorbells, toilet flushes, birds singing, phones ringing. Then there’s music, an entire other way to use sound to enrich the audience’s experience. In college, I began to understand how exciting sound could be in building a show and helping to create the audience’s experience of it. That will certainly be the case in our production of Jesus in India. It will be very exciting.

What do you hope for Magic Theatre’s future?

SH: That more and more people hear the sound of word getting out about Magic and the great, special work that’s done here. Magic is awesome and I want more people to remember this theater’s unique history, experience its current excitement.

So, dear readers, join me in experiencing what Sara Huddleston and her behind-the-scenes crew have created for us at Magic Theatre’s Jesus in India. It will be a unique and exciting time. Hope to see you there!

Jesus In India
by Lloyd Suh, Jan. 25–Feb. 19 at The Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center Building D, box office 415-441-8822,