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PORTER HIGH

by Macout Mann

V

Claude Jensen was elected president the following fall. Kerchner was somewhat surprised, since only three of the crew members were in the college preparatory track. He was especially pleased, however, because Claude had brought creativity and leadership to the group.

The six new members has been chosen the previous spring from almost seventy-five applicants. It had been a grueling process. Repeated interviews had been necessary.

Even after the new stagehands had been initiated, they had no idea that Kerchner was in on what was going on. Some of the more na´ve never would be aware, unless they became interrogators.

Claude set up the schedules, so that a new guy was always supervised by an old hand. By the middle of October everyone was competent to do almost every job. And everyone was having fun with everyone else, although it was apparent that many of the guys had favorite sex partners.

The success of Community Concerts had led to additional rentals of the auditorium, which provided additional opportunities for the boys and additional revenue for the school, which was more than welcome at the height of the Great Depression. Then in March came the biggest challenge the auditorium would ever face and the biggest opportunity the Stage Crew would ever have.

The greatest acting team in the American Theatre was a married couple, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Theirs was strictly a marriage of convenience, since both were homosexual. The Lunts always appeared together and were on tour in a new play by Noel Coward. They were scheduled for three performances, Thursday through Saturday, at the city's Grand Theatre.

Three weeks before the Lunts' appearance there was a fire at the Grand, which made it temporarily unusable. The civic auditorium was unsuitable for plays, so the promoters turned to the Porter Auditorium as a substitute venue. It was about five hundred seats smaller than the Grand, so the touring company agreed to add a fourth performance, a Saturday matinee, and ticket holders were invited to exchange their tickets at the Grand for tickets at Porter.

There was one problem. The play was a "Yellow Card Show."

IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, founded in 1893, was one of the oldest and most successful unions in the country. (Still is). Its contracts governed almost all professional touring companies, and the Yellow Card stipulated the rules under which stagehands might work, which were quite stringent. Porter High, of course, had no contract with IATSE and in any event was unwilling to permit workers unfamiliar with the auditorium to take over its operation. Gerchner was also unwilling to allow his crew to be displaced. A provision in the IATSE contract did provide that in non-union venues, "shadows" might be employed. That is a non-union worker would do the work, while a union worker would shadow him and be paid as though he was working. That was what was finally agreed to, although the shadows were not happy that teenagers were doing their jobs.

The company's stage manager, Keith Forrester, was especially unhappy that he would be dealing with a bunch of kids. That is, until the trucks bearing the set, props, and equipment arrived at the school. It was Wednesday afternoon. Kerchner met the stage manager and introduced him to Claude.

"Before we start unloading, Mr. Forrester, you may want to take a look at our setup," Claude said. "You may be able to use the lights already in place."

Forrester was hardly polite in his response; but when he was shown the auditorium, his attitude changed dramatically. The spots already in place were more than adequate for the company's needs. Claude had them all turned on for Forrester's inspection.

"We keep Straw gels on the spots normally," Claude said, "but Mr. Kerchner indicated that you'd probably want Light Blue Lavender. We can easily change them out."

"The spots we've brought are fitted with Light Blue Lavender gels, but I don't see why we can't use Straw for four performances. I'll have to ask the Lunts, Forrester said. "What about the border lights?"

"Bring up the border lights, Jason!" Claude ordered. "We don't use gels on these, but we can match any color by setting the rheostats."

"Oh, I see." Forrester said. "Well, you're right. All we'll have to unload are the set and props."

The shadows were amazed at how efficiently the crew unloaded the trucks and arranged the stuff backstage. There would be an assembly Thursday morning, so the show couldn't be mounted until after lunch.

Kerchner was able to get most of his crew out of classes the last two periods Thursday afternoon. Most of the boys were busied putting the props in place and lashing the set together, while Claude, Jason, and Forrester matched the border and footlights to the color of the Straw gels. It was not a problem. The boys had done it before, but Forrester had to make sure that the colors matched perfectly. The Lunts had agreed to the change but were not too happy about it. Actually the effect was only to make what the audience would perceive as white light, just a bit warmer than it would otherwise be. On the Broadway Stage the light is almost never really white, unless a "follow spot" is used.

Shortly before four, the other three members of the cast arrived, and Claude showed them to the chorus dressing room offstage. One thing the school's architect did not provide was private dressing rooms. That's why "stars" and concert artists used teachers' offices.

The crew had everything set by five o'clock, but with all the shadows and others around, there was no place for the boys to play. A couple did sneak off to the projection booth, which was unused.

When the Lunts arrived, they wanted to inspect. Forrester introduced them to Claude, who had Jason demonstrate the lighting. Then he escorted them to their "dressing rooms." Forrester was amazed how easily Claude dealt with the "First Family of the American Stage," but after all he had already been dealing with world famous concert artists.

When they arrived at Alfred Lunt's room, Lunt remarked, "My, you are a handsome young man, aren't you?"

Someone was later to remark that the Lunts' greatest performance was to convince America that they were a family, despite their lack of children. Their homosexuality was carefully hidden in glowing articles in such publications as Ladies' Home Journal. Claude was a bit more sophisticated than most boys his age. He recognized a come-on when he saw it.

"Do you really think I'm handsome, sir?" he asked, as he rearranged his dick in his uniform pants.

"Oh, yes. Do you have a moment? I'd like to learn more about you?"

When Claude returned to the stage house, Forrester could hardly keep a straight face. "Took you awhile," he grinned.

"Yes," Claude responded. "Mr. Lunt had some questions for me."

As curtain time approached, the area backstage at the switchboard became very crowded. There was Forrester, directing the operation. There was Claude, heading his crew. There was Jason at the board. There were two shadows from IATSE.

It was almost as if the union was in control. Forrester turned to Claude. "Houselights," he whispered. Claude turned to Jason, "Houselights," he said.

Jason did his usual ten second countown.

Forrester waited until the Lunts signaled they were ready.

Curtain.

Over the years audience courtesy has improved a thousand fold. Even in the Thirties, latecomers were not admitted to the Civic Auditorium until there was a pause in the music. Yet many audience members rushed to the exits while performers were still taking their bows and before the houselights came up. For the Lunts' performances, however, the Grand Theatre ushers were on duty, and the Grand did not have the Civic's policy. Hence, ten minutes into the Lunts' opening night performance a door opened at the back of the orchestra and two of the city's most prominent socialites paraded down the aisle to the third row center and crossed over several patrons to find their seats.

Alfred Lunt stopped speaking in mid-line. He walked to the apron and said, "Good evening. We are so glad you could join us tonight. Unfortunately you have missed some of the best acting seen on Broadway and across America in the last year. We don't want you to be deprived. So...we're going to begin all over again just for you."

He turned and walked off the stage.

"C...curtain," Forrester shouted.

Jason just let go the rope and the curtain plunged down with a flop.

"Spots down," Craine yelled.

In the auditorium there was a smattering of applause, which grew to a grand ovation. Forrester rushed to the stage to consult with Lunt and Fontanne.

Forrester returned and commended Craine for remembering about the spotlights. When the audience had calmed down, he ordered the performance to begin from the beginning. No one who was there ever forgot the night that latecomers in town stopped interrupting plays.

Friday evening and before the Saturday matinee Alfred Lunt asked Claude to check out something in his "dressing room." Claude always returned with a satisfied smile on his face. Before the Saturday night show, Claude sent Jason Rollins. Only fair to share the goodies.

Copyright 2015 by Macout Mann. All rights reserved

Author's Note

Alfred Lunt's interruption of the play to chastise a latecomer did actually happen several years later during a tour of Private Lives. I learned about it from an acquaintance who was in the audience that night.