|WELCOME TO THE TOUR KID
By Doug Smart
|Doug Smart...who wrote this article for Emmy Online DOT Org....Has spent over twenty years in television, as an associate producer and director. In addition to his glorious tenure with the Lawrence Welk Show, Doug has also earned credits with The Golden Girls, Newhart, Benson, Empty Nest and three Academy Awards. He now teaches television direction and production at Southern Illinois University....this is his story about being a part of the Live Lawrence Welk Show.|
|Monday, 6:00 am - Burbank, California:
The year was 1977. It's departure time for "Lawrence Welk on Tour." Three times a year, the entire cast of The Lawrence Welk Show, numbering about 50, criscrosses the country for two weeks of one-night stands.
I've been with the show for a couple of years, and have risen from "gofer" to Associate Director of the television program. I've also just been promoted to Director of the live touring show, and as such, I am the only non-performing member of the musical family to tour with the show.
We've arrived, bags in hand, and are standing on the tarmac at Burbank airport, staring at our chartered plane. It's old. Real old. On the left side of the fuselage, just in front of the propellers, is the passenger door. It's round, like a porthole on a ship. The tail is also round, and seems oversized compared to the rest of the plane. It definitely looks like something out of a black-and-white movie. Casablanca immediately comes to mind.
"What is it?" I ask.
Guy Hovis, half of the husband-and-wife singing team of Guy and Ralna, is standing near me.
"I think they said it's a Vickers Viscount. Built around the end of World War II."
"Since I'm new at this, let me ask you. Is this par for the course?"
"Nah, We've been flying commercial, but people just kept missing the planes and screwing up the travel arrangements, so Sam (Lutz, the show's Exceutive Producer and Lawrence's long time agent) decided to try chartered plane to see if it will be an improvement."
Trombone player Barney Liddell doubles on tour as Equipment Manager, and is telling everyone to put their personal luggage on one cart and their instruments on another. As the brand-new director of the show, I feel I should know all the details, I ask Barney, "Why the seperate carts?"
"This plane's too small to hold our insturments and the luggage, so Sam's booked a chase plane to carry the bags. The instruments and costumes will be on our plane. That way, if the other plane gets held up, we'll still be able to do the show."
"But we'll have no clothes except what we're wearing." I tell him.
Barney breaks into a big grin. "Welcome to the tour, kid."
The chase plane is a vintage Beechcraft the kind that is popular with skydivers.
Besides me Guy just lets out a deep sigh.
"So much for improvements."
Somewhere in the air above Oregon: Roger and David Otwell, twin brothers and featured singers who are new to the show, have never flown before in their lives are a bit nervous. They are sitting next to the emergency exit, and their seat belts are fastened so tight we're worried about their circulation. This turns out to be a good thing, however, as the exit door next to them comes unlatched and cracks open at altitude, which fortunately on the Viscount is not all that high. For the remainder of the tour they will sit as far from the emergency door as possible.
Monday, 6:00pm, - Vancouver, British Columbia
I arrive at my hotel room, having finished setting up the stage at the arena with producer/performer Jack Imel. I have just enough time to shower, shave, and change into my good clothes in time to catch the bus back to the arena for the show. Unfortunately, my bags have not arrived yet. I go down the drug store and buy a razor, shaving cream, a toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo. I make a note to keep these items in my camera bag for the rest of the tour.
Monday, 9:30pm, - Vancouver, British Columbia
It's the intermission of our first night's performance, and Lawrence and the rest of the cast are all at the lip of the stage signing autographs. We do our show without a rehersal for the local stage crew. As director, it's my job to make sure that the stage is properly set up and marked for the performers, that the audio is balanced, and that the lighting cues all happen when and where they are supposed to.
During the show, I sit in the audience with the mixer at the audio console and make sure that the house PA and the stage monitors are running good levels. I call all the lighting cues by headset to the lighting crew, working from the giant cue book that I prepared during rehersals back in L.A.
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