By Ashley Lodato
Elsewhere in the newspaper I wrote about The Merc Playhouse’s upcoming production of the sci-fi smash “Little Shop of Horrors,” and in the process learned some fun facts about the play’s director and Winthrop resident Stephen Kish.
Kish grew up in drama classes and school productions, but in college scaled back his theatrical ambitions in favor of his other great love: music. But before committing himself fully to music he did have a brief brush with the fame and fortune that everyone knows are part and parcel of being a professional actor.
Did you see the 1991 film “Necessary Roughness”? Don’t feel bad — neither did I. I did, however, see “Any Given Sunday,” which was the movie Kish initially told me he worked as an extra in. “I haven’t thought of that in years,” Kish said. Which explains why two days later he realized that he wasn’t actually in “Any Given Sunday” — he was actually in “Necessary Roughness.” Kish’s confusion is understandable, given that both films are about football teams whose glory days have past but who nurture dreams of revived success.
Anyway, Kish’s role as a football fan in a stadium full of tens of thousands of fans isn’t the interesting part of his experience as a professional actor. The interesting part is that most of those other tens of thousands of football fans in the stadium with Kish were actually cardboard cutouts he created.
“The film’s budget didn’t include hiring 40,000 people as extras,” says Kish, “so they hired some of us to help build and costume cardboard cutouts of people.” After building all these fiber friends, Kish and the rest of the crew positioned the two-dimensional fans strategically in the stadium, so that when the camera did close-ups on the audience it focused on the section that was filled with real-human extras, then when it panned out for the crowd shots it showed the inert, unemotional, unthinking, heartless, phony people. Modeled on the current U.S. Senate majority, no doubt.
After “Necessary Roughness” wrapped, Kish finished college and went on to a 20-year career in music with his guitar, working gigs, doing studio work, and serving as a session player. When he moved to the Methow Valley, he enjoyed attending shows at The Merc and two years ago he was hired as The Merc’s technical director.
I’m not sure whether Kish plans to try the ol’ cardboard cutout trick to try to make us believe that “Little Shop of Horrors” plays to full houses every night, but given the broad appeal of this show and the likelihood that the seats will be filled by real humans, I’m guessing he won’t even have the opportunity.