Getting to Know: John Forton

John Forton is the Technical Director at Gulfshore Playhouse.

Christopher Kelly, Jeffrey Binder, Timothy John Smith, and Larry Paulsen in “An Enemy of the People” (2016).

Q: What age did you discover you were interested in theatre? Was there a particular event or experience that revealed your interest?

I was in fourth grade and we were putting on the typical fourth grade talent show! I, being the shy individual I am, was put in charge of turning the lights on and off between acts. I had an absolute blast! I actually got in a bit of trouble for asking the other kids what color lights they wanted on for their acts. I know now that turning on only the blue lights on stage evokes a different feel than what my classmates would have wanted given that their opinion was along the lines of “blue is my favorite color.” When I started high school I was fortunate enough to work with an alumna who had gone on to work for many tours including Bruce Springsteen. She took me under her wing and really opened my eyes to what a career in this industry could be. I’m sure she still wishes I had pursued a career in lighting, but someone needs to build the set! 

Q: What was it about technical direction specifically that caught your eye? Did you know early on you wanted to do carpentry or is it something you realized once you were already working?

I’ve always enjoyed building things. My dad built a lot of our furniture in our house growing up. So I have always been around carpentry. I remember one summer when I was in middle school we rebuilt the shed in our yard. My father went over the top designing this thing, it was essentially a small house…to hold our garden tools. I learned a lot from that experience and especially remember enjoying how we were able to see the progression take place. That is what drew me into technical direction; seeing the progress from day to day is always neat. Each day is something new, and with that brings new challenges. I thoroughly enjoy working with my team to solve the problems as they come up. When everything comes together and works the way it should, there is no better feeling

Q: Can you talk a little about what the role of a Technical Director is?

The main function of the Technical Director is to ensure the feasibility of the scenic design and to collaborate with the other departments about how to best integrate their needs into the production. In general I oversee the build process of the set. I start by collaborating with the design team to take the set design from concept to a tangible thing to be built and put on stage, on time and (ideally) under budget. Another very large part of my job is to ensure the safety of everyone in the theatre; actors, crew, and even patrons.   

Q: What does a typical day on the job look like?

I start my day by reading emails. They will be about any of the three shows I am currently dealing with; the show running, the show in rehearsal/being built in the shop, and the show in the concept phase. 

 I will then work with my team to assess what the goals for the day are based off of our current build schedule and any issues that I find in the daily emails. I’ll spend a good portion of my morning addressing any issues that I personally need to handle. The rest of my day is spent generating drawings for the shop crew to continue their build process, or working on budgets for the next show, or planning a build schedule. At some point in the day I’ll probably have a meeting that I need to go to regarding our next production. At the end of the day I’ll touch base with my team to see what we got done that day so that we can start to plan for the next day.

Q: What is something about your job that people might be surprised to know?

The amount of knowledge I need to possess. The Technical Director needs to know how all the elements of a production will come together for any number of reasons. I have to coordinate with at least one other department about almost every aspect of what my department does. My build schedule affects when paints can begin doing their job. My load in schedule needs to work with paints, lights, and sound load in. I need to work with the costume department about any aspect of the costume design that I might need to accommodate, like if someone will have bare feet on stage or the width of dresses to make sure they can fit through doorways. I need to coordinate with stage management about any backstage concerns. I need to work props about any number of wide ranging issues. I need to know how to maintain and repair our tools.  I need to be quick to solve any engineering issues that come up. It goes on and on and on. I am constantly looking for potential problems and then working to solve them before they become an actual problem.

Q: What is your proudest achievement at Gulfshore Playhouse?

After we open any show there is always a feeling of pride that follows. Every show has its own unique characteristics that make them special. So it’s hard to pick just one. BUT the real answer is finishing the set of The Liar before the show opened. It seemed pretty impossible for a minute there, but we did it..somehow…

Q: Favorite set you’ve ever worked on?

From back when I was the ATD (2014-2017) it is a toss up between Merchant of Venice & Enemy of the People, both were intricate sets that required a lot of detail work and planning on my part. I was fortunate enough to be trusted to be the acting technical director for those specific productions. Overall I am pleased with how everything came out in the end. THEN again I was also the acting technical director on The Hound of the Baskervilles was just fun to work on… so hard to say. I just enjoy the job. 

Outside of GP? Weston Playhouse Theatre Company’s production of Mamma Mia, I could go on and on about why I am proud of that work but we might be here for a while…ask me about it at an opening night sometime.