It is by design that the behind-the-scenes magic of the theatre remains behind the scenes. However, the unfortunate result is those magicians are often overlooked, even by regular festival-goers.
Ian Pygott, now 30 years into his career at Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre (FAST), is one of those magicians.
He first got involved with FAST, when Addy Doucette was in need of a lighting designer. His first few shows included Idle Gossip, Up and Under and the recurring musical revue It’s The Berries.
Since then, he has become a fixture of the Bauer Theatre, contributing his talents as a set designer, sound engineer, stage manager and director. His is the voice which reminds you calmly, ‘This evening’s production will begin in five minutes.’
He has worked just about everywhere in the theatre except on stage.
When asked about his most memorable shows, he recalled a series of plays he wrote and directed called The Highland Widow Trilogy, which was presented as a FAST Late Night show in the Bauer’s Green Room, before the current renovations, and the space was smaller.
Five stage lights and a stereo were all he had for equipment, but the shows did well. One of the plays made it to the fringe festival in Halifax.
Another memorable show for Pygott is Lungs, in which there was no set built, but a frame of sixteen LED lights lit in different combinations to change the scenery.
He is a technical designer who understands that imagery is the intent of a good set. He prefers projections and lighting, which evokes the feeling of a place, rather than specific reference. He waxes nostalgic of the artistry that comes with an analogue sound system, but also appreciates the possibilities that digital brings.
Always accepting of progress, he looks forward to the day that LED lighting becomes versatile enough to replace the Bauer stage lights. He has seen two renovations of the venerable theatre in his career, and will surely be invaluable should another come around.
Until then, the busy day-to-day of a technical designer keeps him occupied; full days of set building, painting, inventing devices for special effects, fine tuning the nuts and bolts and all that happens before the actors ever enter the theatre.
Once they are in the picture, it’s a scramble to sort out the stage management with only four people. If that sounds like a lot to put on one plate, remember that FAST juggles the rehearsals of multiple productions in one season.
“Time is our most expensive element,” Pygott said, speaking a universal truth about the theatre.
Anybody who has worked with him, and that is a great many people, speaks nothing but his praises. He carries himself with quiet confidence. He is easy to talk to and just about always in good humour.
Pygott is an invisible, indispensable part of the Bauer Theatre, and he deserves just as much of a standing ovation as anybody on stage.