Pam’s People Profile: Steve Hartman takes CBS viewers on journeys across America with his “On the Road” series of stories. Here, Pam Clifton takes readers across the Parkland by sharing stories of local residents.
Chuck Gallaher has always been a bit mischievous. When he first told his parents that he wanted to be an actor, they didn’t believe him.
“They were like, ‘What are you doing?’” he said. They thought he was trying to embarrass them like normal. But once they saw that he actually enjoyed it and seemed serious about his decision, they fully supported him. “They were all in.”
Now, he has his dream job. Gallaher is director of Mineral Area College’s theater department, and he couldn’t be happier.
From Belleview, Gallaher now resides in Park Hills. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and then taught elementary school. He was in his mid-20s, and he wasn’t happy with his career.
“I was always going out and doing these kinds of things on the side,” he says, referring to his work in theater. He took an acting class on a whim while in college with “an amazing teacher, and I guess I just liked the idea that you can explore all of these different people and let the audience see these very real feelings and still hide behind the character.”
Gallaher performed in several productions at MAC while he was a student and community member: "A Tale of Two Cities;" "I Hate Hamlet;" "1940s Radio Hour;" "Our Town;" "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown;" "Romeo and Juliet;" "Godspell;" "Into the Woods;" "The Toby Show;" "Chicago;" "Grease;" "Singing in the Rain;" "Sylvia;" "Smokey Joe’s Café;" "A Midsummer Night’s Dream;" "Steel Magnolias;" "Annie;" "Rocky Horror Show;" "Noises Off;" "Sleuth;" and "Ghost of Scapino." His first ever role was playing Charles Darnay in "A Tale of Two Cities."
After MAC, Gallaher earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in technical theatre from Lindenwood University. He was promoted to Master Election which gave him the opportunity to work on several Broadway tours such as "CATS," "Grease," "Legally Blonde," and "Jesus Christ Superstar." He also got the chance to work on "Marvin Hamlisch Presents: The Way We Were," which was a special for PBS that was recorded there.
His love for theater eventually prevailed. He accepted the position of theater director at MAC eight years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
As director of MAC’s theater department, he has many responsibilities. One important task is selecting titles for upcoming performances. When he reads or hears about something that he thinks would be entertaining for the students or community members, he sometimes sends the idea to friends to get opinions. Generally, if they feel the same, then Gallaher looks into how much it would cost to do and begins crunching numbers. For some roles, Gallaher says there has to be a certain look.
“When you think of Dorothy from the 'Wizard of Oz,' most of us think of Judy Garland. So you try your best to find someone who resembles that. For other shows, I have an idea of what type of person I saw when I was reading the script.” But he said most of the time, especially when someone is prepared and giving it their all in the audition, his mind can easily be changed.
He tells first-time actors who are trying out for a MAC production that they have nothing to be nervous about if they come prepared and give it their all. “Just because you may not read for the character you want, show me what you’ve got. Give it your all. It very well can change everything.”
For any single performance, Gallaher said much of the work is behind the scenes.
“They say theatre is like an iceberg,” he explained. “You only get to see about 20 percent of the things going on with it.”
He said most of the shows at MAC begin at least a year out. That means right now he’s already looking through scripts that might be seen at MAC next year, 2020. Once a title is selected, Gallaher begins with budgeting. He determines how much he can spend on a show. Then he considers technical aspects. Are any fly systems, trap doors, blood effects, etc. needed that they do not have? If they do not have an item, can they work around it? For musicals, he has to decide who will be the vocal director. If a band is needed, that must also be figured out. Once all these details are decided, he holds rehearsals about eight weeks before curtain call. He decides on the cast, and work on the set begins immediately. He has a small team of scholarship students who help build sets, paint, set the lights, and more. He has a costumer who takes care of that aspect of the show.
The cast follows a grueling rehearsal schedule with practice five nights a week for three to four hours a night for eight weeks total before the curtain goes up.
Sometimes no matter how much preparation has gone into a performance, things go wrong. He recalls a show when everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Half the cast was sick, the lead performers lost their voices, and they couldn’t find any band members. They were even snowed out of almost all of the performances. Gallaher remembers one time when an actress fell off her porch and broke her leg right before heading to the theater for that evening’s performance. Fortunately, he had a very talented stage manager who took the role over and learned most of the lines and songs literally an hour before the performance began.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Gallaher, referring to putting on a production. “It seems like we are just up there playing pretend, but to really get into character and entertain an audience, it is a lot of work. More work than most people see and more than you will ever get credit for.”
Gallaher said the most difficult thing about being director is staying focused.
“I always want to go around and make sure that everything is OK, that the lights are working properly, everyone has an extra battery for their sound packs, and audience can find their seats. But I have to stay behind the curtain. The hardest part about directing is trying to quickly reach your actors, and conveying your ideas to them. Finding that moment of understanding in the collaboration between the two.”
He also gives advice to his actors before the curtain goes up: “I have been lucky to not have a lot of students with stage fright, but I mostly tell them that it is dark out there [in the audience]. You can barely see them anyway.”
In his role as director, Gallaher likes to watch a show from the first rehearsal to the curtain going up and see how much a cast has grown. “With acting, getting the laughs is always great.”
Gallaher has directed many productions at MAC: "You Can’t Take It With You;" Footloose;" "39 Steps;" "Almost, Maine;" "You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown;" "Cabaret;" "Brighton Beach Memoirs;" "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum;" "Cat on A Hot Tin Roof;" "Nuncrackers;" "Completely Hollywood Abridged;" "Guys and Dolls;" "Biloxi Blues;" "Clue;" "Barefoot in the Park;" "Much Ado About Nothing;" "Schoolhouse Rock Live;" "The Game’s Afoot;" "Little Shop of Horrors;" "Harvey;" "Into the Woods;" "Rumors;" "Urinetown;" "12 Angry Jurors;" "Bye, Bye Birdie;" "Blithe Spirit;" "Return to the Forbidden Planet;" "The Man Who Came to Dinner;" "The Pajama Game;" "Oleanna;" "Snoop! The Musical;" "Private Lives;" "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee;" "The Tempest;" "Next to Normal;" "The Laramie Project;" "James and the Giant Peach;" "Glass Menagerie;" "Batboy;" "All My Sons;" "RENT; God of Carnage;" "Junie B. Jones is NOT a Crook;" "An Act of God;" and "Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits Volume 1."
When tasked with trying to pick his favorite production, Gallaher said that’s like trying to “pick your favorite child.”
“It really depends on what mood I’m in and what I am working on currently,” he said. “For shows and musicals, it’s anything that gets a good audience reaction.”
When asked about his favorite roles as an actor himself, Gallaher said his most memorable roles have included playing Puck in "Midsummer Night’s Dream," Riff Raff in "Rocky Horror Show," Gabe in "Dinner with Friends," and Hoover in "The Toby Show."
As for the role he would still like to portray, he says that might be "Hamlet." And he’d love to work with Timothy Olyphant, Gary Oldman, and classic Jack Nicholson.
Gallaher doesn’t have many regrets. He said although there were roles for which he auditioned but didn’t get, he “wasn’t right [for them] at the time.”
There are plenty of highs and lows in acting. The worst thing about being an actor is not getting the audience’s reaction one was hoping for. The best part? Getting the audience reactions one was hoping for.
For learning one’s lines, Gallaher says there really isn’t a trick to learning a script, except to read it and re-read it. And read it again. “We use different methods of analysis depending whether you are acting or directing.”
Like all actors at some point, Gallaher has forgotten his lines, but he says “you just move on to the next thing you know and hope that your fellow actors will play along.” Just before he goes on stage, he says a prayer that he doesn’t mess up his first line.
When he gets a short break during practice – whether he’s directing or acting – Gallaher gets something to drink and steps “outside the box for a moment.” When he’s not in the middle of a production, he tries to catch up on sleep or usually “binging something on Netflix, reading more scripts, or playing video games.”
Gallaher’s talent extends beyond acting and directing. Because his degree is in technical theater design, he is “really good about working in and with certain spaces and bringing some of those things out.” In addition, he can sing and dance. He also played drums in college.
As for what’s on the agenda for 2019 MAC performances, they have a lot going on. "Romeo and Juliet "will be performed Feb. 14-16, the musical "9 to 5" is after that, and the summer shows are "Drop Dead!" and "A Year with Frog and Toad." They do six shows a year at MAC, usually three plays and three musicals.
All auditions are open to the community. There are also always volunteer opportunities both on and backstage. In addition, they do a summer children’s production each year that consists of students ages 7-14 to be performed for students of the same age. They have a kids’ summer theater camp as well. More information can be found at www.mineralarea.edu/faculty/academicDepartments/FineArts/theatrehome.aspx.