Same Time, Next Year, The Waterworks Players’ current production opening this week, is a first-time directorial experience for Billy Tucker. But it’s far from his first time being involved with Waterworks.
“My first experience was in 2015, when I helped Moffatt Evans build the set for Les Miserables,” Billy told me in a recent interview. “My wife wanted me to have something to do outside of work. I was working with Moffatt in the IT division at Longwood University, and had no idea he was the tech director for Waterworks. I worked with him in probably 90% of the shows after that.”
Does he consider Evans a mentor, then? “Absolutely. He introduced me to the finer points of stage construction, especially walls and platforms (to elevate actors).”
Did he have any prior experience with theater? “Nope. But I grew up on a dairy farm. I learned to use a lot of tools—carpentry stuff mostly, building fences and digging up rocks. At Longwood, I had a lot of experience designing costumes for the annual staff Halloween party competition.”
I asked Billy to elaborate. “One year, I was ‘Joanie on the Stoney.’ Because of the narrow ‘stone’ base I had to create, it took me a lot of baby steps to get over and pose with the Joan of Arc statue in the Rotunda. Another time I was all four characters from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I peeled off one costume to reveal the next: Lion, to Scarecrow, to Dorothy, to Tin Man. I called my entry ‘My Group Backed Out.’”
“How successful were you?” I asked. “Well, I won first place for twelve years in a row.”
Billy’s first head tech job was Shrek. “It was both my most challenging and satisfying job. I didn’t think I could delegate some of the things I wanted to do, like designing the pages for the Shrek book”—the ‘introduction page,’ the ‘Young Shrek’ page, the ‘Princess Fiona page.’ Shrek was a lot of work, but it let me scratch a lot of itches.”
“But I got a lot of help, too. Audrey Sullivan showed me several painting techniques—texturing the trees and castle wall, especially. And she brought along a couple of students too, Jeanne Strunk and Patricia Carter. They’ve gone on to act in several Waterworks productions.”
I noted that more recently Billy has begun to act, himself. “Yes. I’ve been in seven plays so far.” His favorite role? “Mr. Paravicini in The Mousetrap. It’s the part I was most prepared for. I was glad to hear how many in the audience thought my ’mysterious’ foreign accent sounded natural.”
Billy’s most challenging play has been Gaslight. “I had real trouble learning my lines. That’s when I came across ‘Memory Palaces,’ a visual technique that’s been used since Shakespeare’s time. You memorize a series of images that relate to the words in the script; it’s like I’m following a path and reading signs along the way.”
What has directing a play for the first time been like? “My biggest fear was about connecting to the script. I was afraid that I’d miss the nuances, the subtexts. And I was worried about the blocking (deciding how and where the actors move onstage). Would my ideas work? Would the cast revolt? But once I had the blocking down, Same Time, Next Year started to have a life of its own. I was steering the ship, not pulling it.”
“ I’m working with great people: the tech crew, props, the stage and production managers. The cast is knocking it out of the park. And I have two new folks working on this production, Sean Dowse and Paul Maserjian. Sean’s helping me with the set and has given me some excellent director tips, and Paul’s been doing great work with the sound.
“That’s what I love most about the theater, especially community theater—it’s a collaboration. You have a group of people working on the same project, creating something greater than themselves.”
Performances of Same Time, Next Year will be at 8 p.m. February 17, 18, 24 and 25, with a 2 p.m. matinee on February 19. Tickets are $12, and can be ordered online at waterworksplayers.org/buytickets.