The Mikado: Anatomy of a Musical Production
Seeking and finding a director, grants, a set and more 102109 AE 2 For the CCW The Mikado: Anatomy of a Musical Production

Photo By John Clough

Director Hal Ryder of the Cornish College of the Arts works with "Mikado" leads Tiffany Hanson (Yum-Yum) and Jay Query (Nanki-Poo).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Story last updated at 10/21/2009 - 1:32 pm

Seeking and finding a director, grants, a set and more

The Mikado: Anatomy of a Musical Production

Even a rookie producer like myself knew that to put on a show we had to have a director. The Mikado is a great, show with catchy tunes and very funny lines - but it can be a difficult show to direct. And we didn't need just a good director - we also needed someone who could teach theater arts to high school students as part of our collaborative project with Thunder Mountain. Although Juneau has some great local directors, none seemed to have the level of professional teaching experience we were looking for. Absent any other better alternatives, I went to Google and searched "Director Mikado Teacher Seattle." And boy did I get a hit - a great one.

Those incomprehensible logarithms that make up Google's search engine directed me to the online resume of Hal Ryder, a professor at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Hal has taught dramatic arts at Cornish for over 20 years and personally directed more than 200 productions. He has conducted theater arts classes all over the world to students in locales as diverse as London, Ecuador, Afghanistan and, most recently, Yemen. To top things off, earlier in his career he had been retained as the regular director for Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society and had directed a production of "The Mikado" in 2001.

Talk about a dream candidate for the job! I was on the phone to Hal within a few hours of reading his resume. After I described our project to him, he said, "It's the kind of thing I'd love to do - but you could probably never afford me. Still, if you are coming through Seattle we should talk and I'll see if I can hook you up with someone who can help you out."

Two weeks later Hal and I were sitting in a Starbucks in downtown Seattle. As I went through my spiel I could see that the collaborative nature of our project had caught his interest. Putting down his chai latte, Hal explained that to do our project he would have to take off most of a semester from his teaching position at Cornish. "But," he said, "this could actually be a lot of fun." Then he offered to do it for a figure that I knew was far less than his normal rate. The problem was that even with the break, it was still more than JLO had in its budget. But something told me that this was too good a chance to pass up and within a couple of days we had Hal on board to direct The Mikado in Juneau in May 2009.

Now came the tough part - finding the money. Frances Field, JLO's Executive Director, took on the laborious job of writing major grant applications to The Rasmuson Foundation and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council asking for assistance to allow to go ahead with this first of its kind collaborative project. Frances did a great job and both organizations came through with substantial grants without which the project could not have gone ahead.

By spring 2008 we had already brought Hal to Juneau twice to conduct auditions and meet Patti Bippus at TMHS. When Hal mentioned to us that the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society would be performing "The Mikado" that July, we realized that this could be an enormous opportunity for our own production. Hal introduced me to Mike Storey, the Producer of Seattle G & S, and soon we had worked out a deal for JLO to borrow $25,000 worth of brilliantly colored silk Japanese kimonos to use in our show. Better still, Mike told us that we could have their entire set for free! When I saw the photos of the stunning set that Mike and his professional team had assembled I knew we to get our hands on it. Alaska Marine Lines generously donated the use of a 40-foot container and I flew down to Seattle in September 2008 to pack up the set and barge it North.

I was starting to feel a bit cocky about this whole producer business. I had a show, a director, grants, costumes, props, most of a cast and a finished set en route from Seattle to Juneau. All of this was completed by the end of August - nine months before we were scheduled to open at TMHS in May 2009. What could possibly go wrong?

Lots, as I found out to my dismay within a day or two after I got home. Lack of funds was delaying the completion of the TMSS theater at TMHS until six months after our projected opening date. That had huge, potentially fatal implications for the show. For a month or so it was touch and go whether we would have to cancel after all our hard work. But a whole lot of people rearranged their lives so that the project could go forward in the fall of 2009. So our show was still on!

Next week: Hal starts teaching students at TMHS by day and directing rehearsals by night rehearsals even as the workers are completing the final touches on the new TMHS theater.

Juneau Lyric Opera's production of "The Mikado" will be performed on Nov. 6-8 and 13-15 at the new Thunder Mountain High School Theater. Tickets may be purchased at Hearthside Books or online at

John Clough is the producer of Juneau Lyric Opera's "The Mikado."

"The Mikado" will be the debut stage performance in Juneau's new Thunder Mountain High School Theater opening on Friday, Nov. 6. It is a multi-resource production put together by Juneau Lyric Opera Company (JLO) in collaboration with Thunder Mountain, Director Hal Ryder of The Cornish College of the Arts and the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society. This is the second in a four-part series tracing the history of how this unique cooperative endeavor came to fruition.