Ready to pass the torch: Spicer, Murphy Theatre seek next-gen of stage techs

Spicer, theatre seek next-gen stage techs

By John Hamilton -

WILMINGTON — Before he could learn how to drive, Joe Spicer was learning the mechanics of the Murphy Theatre.

“I was 12 years old. Just before I turned 13, my friend Larry Baker and I started changing the marquee here and out at the drive-in and putting up posters at the drive-in,” said Spicer. “We had done that for a couple of summers … then just before my 13th birthday, we started taking tickets at the Murphy.”

Spicer, a former city council member, was the manager at the Murphy for less than two years before getting hired as a firefighter. He still helped out from time to time, but returned to the Murphy after it became a non-profit theatre in the 1980s, eventually serving on the Murphy board and the tech committee.

But now, as the years have gone by, he and the Murphy staff want to find some young folks to come and help. Spicer is hoping there are some teens and young adults out there like him who want to learn how to do the various stage work.

“We’re looking for stage help,” he said. “Not just somebody to come and be the sound guy; we need people to come in and help set the stage up, and if something goes wrong, fix it.”

“I’m getting older, I’m facing some health issues, and I just don’t how much longer I’ll physically be able to do it. We need to find some young adults that want to learn and are willing to help, learn the behind-the-scenes stuff of putting on a show. We do a variety of things … no two shows are the same.”

If anyone is nervous about working some of the equipment, don’t worry — Spicer knows the feeling. He recalls working the old stage lighting system where flipping a switch could result in sparks flying.

And he recalls the first time he ran the soundboard in 2001.

“They came up to me and said, ‘Joe, you’re gonna run sound for us.’ I said I never run sound before in my life. I’ve played in a lot of bands, but I never did sound. They said, ‘You’re gonna learn’,” Spicer said.

He got about an hour’s worth of training for the soundboard and everything else was picked up by reading, and by picking the brains of experienced sound people.

“Lots of trial and error,” he said. “We had some bad sound for a while, but I got to where I can hold my own,” he said. “Most shows, I run it. If we get a big show — like out of Nashville or something that’s got really heavy technical requirements — then I usually bring in someone to help me or to run it. I don’t want it to end up being a bad production or I don’t have the confidence in myself.”

Regardless of the equipment — whether it was the board he used in 2001 or the newer digital one — he still loves to do it. That love spreads to all of his involvement with the Murphy.

“I’ve loved it all … when I was younger I liked changing the marquee, that was always fun. When I started taking tickets, that was fun seeing all the people coming in. Then when I ran the projector, and because I was techy-type guy, I really liked that,” he said.

If anyone is interested in learning stage tech, contact the Murphy Theatre at 937-382-3643 or email them at
Spicer, theatre seek next-gen stage techs

By John Hamilton

Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574

Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574