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The Hands Behind the Stage

By Kamerin Johnson in Life

Tucked behind The Decker Theatre there is a small space. Occupying it is a desk, work benches, and tools; lots of tools.

“’What if I fall?’ ‘Oh my dear what if you fly?’” is written across a small work station, surrounded by other drawings and mementos. Everything is coated with sawdust, as it is the work and storage space for those who help in the Scene Shop.

The Scene Shop Supervisor and Director Rusty Tennant was everywhere in the theater that day. Any question that needed to be answered was brought to him.

Sometimes there were three questions at once, all answered quicker than lightning. Work study students, play production students and paid staff members constructed on the stage as an audience of empty seats filled the room.

Tennant was born on a farm in the small town of Webberville, Michigan.

“It’s part of how we grew up, you needed to know how to swing a hammer,” said Tennant, who often built crates and kennels throughout his upbringing.

Despite being from a small town that did not offer a theater program for the majority of his high school experience, Tennant always enjoyed performing.

“I really do think that it was just a bug I was bit with–very early on I liked getting in front of people and people applauding me,” Tennant said.

Tennant’s priority is to take what the scene designer has created and figure out how to build it on stage.

Tennant has been featured in films such as “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “The Guardian,” and “Glory Road,” as well as television appearances on “Grimm” and “The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life is Not a Fairy Tale.”

“I think growing up in a small town has given me a very unique perspective,” Tennant said. “In many ways it has created a blue collar feel in my work, even when my work does achieve a high level of art.”

He said he was raised with the idea that “you make what you have, you create with what you have.”

One of Tennant’s goals is to be as resourceful as possible.

“Scenic design is painfully wasteful, we will spend thousands of dollars building a mock house on stage for a two week performance, then it gets torn down,” Tennant said.

In a space with very little storage, those who work in the scene shop try to be creative about storing and reusing things.

When it comes to other actors, Tennant believes that every actor is equally good.

“They have good moments and bad moments,” said Tennant. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, or me, some things you are amazing in and some things you are not amazing in.”

Amongst his favorite actors are Anthony Hopkins, Ian Mkellen and Patrick Stewart, all of which started out on the stage performing Shakespeare.

Tennant has a wide variety of talents and skills with which he carries this mantra.  As Friar Lawrence spoke in Romeo and Juliet, “Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.”

For Tennant this is a reminder for how to live his life.

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