Technical director Terry Brennan hangs a light at the Capitol Theatre last month. Every production’s request, big or small, goes through Brennan. Photo: Tyler Harper

The show won’t go on without Terry Brennan

The Capitol Theatre’s technical director is its true star

The Pink Floyd tribute band’s show was reaching a crescendo when it broke the Capitol Theatre.

A breaker blew in the middle of the 23-minute epic “Echoes,” and the only music that could be heard was the sound of a band and audience who were unexpectedly less than comfortably numb.

It’s the kind of interruption every crew member fears. Olivia Bogaard, the Capitol’s assistant technical director, was sitting behind the audience in the theatre’s tech booth working on lighting when the sound went out.

“My palms started sweating,” says Bogaard, who suddenly felt trapped in the booth while the audience and band wondered what was happening.

“Lucky enough, Terry was on stage.”

No one knows the 92-year-old theatre quite like technical director Terry Brennan. He is a behind-the-scenes maestro, the theatre’s chief problem solver, and when the concert in September lost its sound it was Brennan who knew what to do. After only a few minutes he had fixed the breaker, and the band finished its show.

When it was over the Floyd fans applauded, and Brennan allowed himself to relax.

“Nelson audiences are very forgiving like that,” says Brennan, 55. “No one yelled ‘give me my money back.’”

Terry Brennan has worked at the theatre since 2001, and was promoted to technical director last year. He is the first person stage crews meet when they bring their shows to the Capitol. Photo: Tyler Harper

Brennan has now been working at the theatre for 18 years, most of which was as an assistant tech director until last year when Harvey Dutoff retired and Brennan was promoted.

Running the theatre is a full-time job for Brennan. He estimates he’ll work on 70 shows annually. Those range from one-night concerts to multi-show productions, and each requires something different from Brennan.

At no time is this more apparent than when a show moves into the theatre, an experience that can either be magical or maddening depending on how elaborate the technical needs are.

Local actor and producer Sydney Black has worked on shows at the Capitol since she was just five, and knows how stressful move-in day can be.

“You’re in crunch time, you don’t have any wiggle room and if something’s not working right away you feel like the world is crashing down,” says Black. “[Brennan has] held that world up many a time.”

One such day was Oct. 27 for the show Fastlane to Paradise. Brennan had already arrived at 8:30 a.m. to begin setting up lights when the doors opened and stage crews started carrying in set pieces.

“Here they come,” said Brennan, somewhat cautiously.

Although they had been rehearsing for months, it’s the first day the cast and crew worked in the Capitol. That meant plenty of trial, lots of errors and an unending stream of questions for Brennan.

At one point he is on a ladder installing a light high above the stage while giving one person the Wi-Fi password and explaining the intricacies of the Columbia Basin Trust (his wife is on the board) to another.

Later he is asking the crew for more rigging support — “It makes me sleep better at night” — showing sound technicians how to use the theatre’s mixing board and working up on the catwalk, where he admits to sometimes having one-sided conversations with the lights.

Brennan looks at a lighting plan for a local production. “We strive for perfection and it almost never is perfect,” he says. Photo: Tyler Harper

Brennan has an anthropology degree but no formal stage training. Theatre, however, was part of his childhood. He grew up in Bassano, a town of just 1,200 people in rural southern Alberta where his father would host dinner theatre shows and use his son as the technician.

“I’ve always had a real affinity for wires and cables,” says Brennan.

He moved to Nelson in 1992, and in 1999 helped out with an arts festival at the Capitol. Two years later he was hired as an assistant technician.

At the time, that mostly meant building maintenance and four-hour cleaning shifts after crews packed up. But the theatre has changed significantly since Brennan started. There are more shows and, according to executive director Stephanie Fischer, more demands on Brennan.

“Every time we buy a new light or a new lighting or sound console or speakers or any electronics, it’s a huge learning curve with that,” says Fischer.

“Terry is very curious. He’s very, very good when it comes to computers and technology. He’s always learning on the job.”

Brennan, who wears his hair long and dresses like a roadie for an old punk band, is admittedly a sound guy. The setup for visiting musicians, he says, used to be just a single microphone. But as technology advanced, so did musicians’ expectations.

So when the theatre purchased a new mixing board, Brennan trained himself to use it.

“I really love mixing sound,” he says. “It’s kind of seat of your pants in a way. It can go horribly wrong, and when you succeed it’s really great. It feels great and people really appreciate it. Patrons really notice it when it sounds good.

“Oh, and they let you know when it doesn’t.”

When Brennan is in the audience himself, he sees the show from a different perspective.

He’ll notice the rigging, as he did last summer at a Cirque du Soleil show in Calgary, or look on with envy as horses are used at the Caravan Farm Theatre near Armstrong. He’ll watch for new techniques that can be adopted by the Capitol, and for mistakes that might have been avoided.

“We strive for perfection and it almost never is perfect,” says Brennan. “We see things that audiences don’t necessarily see, hopefully don’t see, that are not perfect, and we’re pretty hard on ourselves. A half second off on a lighting cue is a giant mistake in our books.”

Brennan makes adjustments to a mixing board, which he trained himself to use when the theatre upgraded its equipment. Photo: Tyler Harper

Brennan’s most important job might actually be imparting this dedication to the craft on his protege.

Olivia Bogaard was hired as Brennan’s assistant last year after his promotion. Born and raised in Nelson, Bogaard was 14 when she was first asked to help her cousin as the backstage manager for a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Capitol.

“At the time I was pretty shy and ‘what is this weird world?’ Going into The Rocky Horror Picture Show was like, this is crazy and also I love it,” she says.

Bogaard is 26 now. Like Brennan, she never went to school for theatre, but has worked on shows at the Capitol for the last 12 years.

The pair work well together. Whereas Brennan cares more for sound, Bogaard has an interest in lighting.

“He has been one of my biggest supporters in terms of learning and growth,” says Bogaard. “He’s brutally honest, which is great. I really appreciate that because I always know exactly where I stand with Terry.

“He is so supportive of good ideas that I have, and he will also let me know when I haven’t thought something through fully. He is always asking for my opinion on stuff and if he thinks it’s a good idea it’s just done the next day, which is so cool.”

Brennan says one day he hopes Bogaard replaces him. But for now, he takes special pride in his job at the only theatre he’s ever worked for.

That pride shines if Brennan is asked to provide a tour of the Capitol. He can show you the wall etched with names of actors and crew dating back to the 1920s. He knows where the building’s original chimney was, and can explain what the dusty trophy in the tech office was for.

But the Capitol still has secrets Brennan says he has yet to discover in the space just outside the spotlight where every tech director lives.

“I’m still learning things,” he says. “It took a long time for me to feel like I was close, and I’m still discovering things.”



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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