​ Shop Talk: Production Manager Michael Broh

Posted August 26, 2020

Lighting Tower Web

Read about APT's Production Manager, Michael Broh below, and visit his Back to the Woods page to check out his incentives - including a guided trip up APT's lighting tower!

Production managers make up the engine that powers a play’s aesthetic, from props to scenery, to the very stage beneath the actors’ shoes (shoes that are painstakingly selected by the costume shop, which, incidentally, also falls under the PM’s purview). It’s an intense and often thankless role that varies from place to place. At APT, the production manager is in charge of what happens backstage, which is within the usual definition of the job, but also negotiating contracts and royalty agreements, which are not. 

APT’s Production Manager, Michael Broh, said “Every production manager does it a little differently and it all is all based on how theaters operate. Schedules and budgets are a big part of my job. Supervising people, trying to make sure that they have the tools they need when they need it, balancing resources to expectations – all the stuff that goes with normal management jobs. But specifically in theater, it's about taking care of scenery, the costumes, the props lighting sound crew, backstage crew all those things.”

People come to this job from all different areas of theater. Michael started his post-college career as a stage manager at the legendary Second City in Chicago, where he was part of the touring team – a job that requires a lot of figurative hats.

“I was on the road and so, in addition to doing all the things that stage manager normally does, like make sure the actors are on time, and making sure the show is relatively stable, I also dealt with the lights and the sound,” Michael said. “I would also, you know, drive the van and carry the props. I was kind of the only tech person on the road with the actors and one musician. And then they moved me from the road to their second stage, where I stayed for a couple of years. So that was a lot of fun. I loved that work. And then after six or seven years of that all of that, we had a child, and I decided to go to graduate school.”
Michael was hired at APT while he was finishing up his Master’s Degree at the Yale School of Drama, and he’s been with the theater for 21 years and counting. Having previously worked in Chicago, Spring Green was a big change, and one he embraced. Since becoming one of Spring Green’s 1,600ish residents, Michael has been serving as an EMT; was elected five times to the Village Board; and has become a local business owner when he opened the Slowpoke Lounge & Cabaret downtown. The Slowpoke is also home to another resident theater company, Two Crows, whose artistic team is comprised of Rob Doyle, Kelsey Brennan and Marcus Truschinski, who you may recognize from the APT stages. In fact, APT actors and staff often patronize, and sometimes also work, at the Slowpoke, as does Michael, because as in every small town, all hands are always on deck.

As both an EMT in a tight-knit community, and as a production manager who is intimately involved with regulations and guidelines at the theater, safety is always Michael’s top concern. At the top of the list right now is, of course, COVID-19, which shut the theater down for the summer. But even though there are no productions on stage, safety upgrades are still in the works, and perhaps the biggest project this year is the upgrade of APT’s lighting tower. 

Though the Hill Theatre has received a number of substantial upgrades over the years, the lighting tower still wasn’t quite what it should be, considering how vital lighting is to the plays, which take place largely in the evening.

“The lighting pipes on these towers were wider than the cages you use to access them,” Michael said. “And the reality was they were pretty big and hard to reach. And we were working with them every day, sometimes multiple times a day. And although people were tied off with their harnesses and so that they could not fall all the way to the ground, they were still having to maybe stand on the edges of the cage, or go outside the cage and hold on with one hand while they reached another thing on the light. Nobody fell, and there was a back stop, but it wasn't the best way to do this. And the whole time it was driving me a little crazy. We also started growing our lighting department a little bit, but they’re still working long hours, and they’re working at night, and they're exhausted. And we knew we needed to do something.”

The upgrades came at a price – around $50,000. But the importance of the project demanded that something be done. So APT partnered with Endres Manufacturing and Kraemer Brothers – a company located in nearby Plain, WI, that has worked with APT on numerous projects over many years, including the Next Great Stage upgrade in 2017. The plans were underway, and progressing nicely. “I was so thrilled to finally get going,” Michael said. “And then COVID hit, and we started to look at the possibilities that there might not be any income and we halted all projects.” A huge setback among already unprecedented setbacks, and, with no ticket income, APT came to the conclusion that the project would have to be put on hold. 

But once again, Kraemer and Endres came to the rescue. Rather than let this very important safety upgrade fizzle, Kraemer Brothers donated the labor and Endres donated back part of the cost of the materials.  Michael was overwhelmed by the gesture. “I was shocked. I was just blown away. But, you know, they've been our partners forever. They're close to the theater, they care about us.”

And now, with the project largely completed, the lighting crew will be safer, and more comfortable. And if you’ve ever been curious about climbing those steps yourself, here’s your chance. Visit Michael’s Back to the Woods fundraising page, where he’s offering a number of fantastic incentives to donate to his campaign (which is more than half way to its goal), including a safety lesson and guided tour to the top of an APT lighting tower.