Let’s Put on a Show! Mounting a Production at Florida Rep
Considered one of the country’s preeminent repertory companies, Florida Rep puts on a full season of plays, comedies and musicals. Last spring’s schedule included Cabaret with Jillian Louis.
For someone just shy of 40, Tim Billman has traveled a lot of miles during his career in local theater. The production manager at Florida Repertory Theatre in downtown Fort Myers got the bug for behind-the-scenes theater production at a very young age, specifically in stage-lighting design.
“I was exposed to the world of theater production early, and I started to believe that I could do that, and I could add my own ideas to it and make it better,” says the affable Billman. “I just really love the creative processes involved in putting a season of shows together.”
Now in his fifth season at Florida Rep, Billman has worked for several local theater houses in North Carolina, Texas and the West.
When you ask him what he does with the majority of his time at the theater, the answer is a very good overview of his job. “I’m basically in charge of everything onstage that’s not an actor,” Billman explains. “I oversee everything from stage design and construction, lighting direction, the show’s costumes and props, sound and projection, and more.”
Florida Rep is a staple of the local cultural arts scene, now entering its 21st season of putting on shows both grand and granular. For the 2018-19 season, the theater is presenting a diverse array of shows, including two musicals, multiple comedies, a modern American classic, a southeastern United States premiere, and a world-premiere adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Billman spends his day—and very often nights—looking after what he feels are the two main focuses of his job. “My days are divided between making sure my creative teams have everything they need to do their jobs, and thinking and planning for the future, which in this business can mean it will seldom go like you had planned.”
Florida Rep has grown into a sizable entity, with three other facilities in addition to the 393-seat theater itself. There are administrative offices, a costume shop and a scene shop, all operating under the oversight of Billman. “There are many challenges involved in selecting all our creative talent—from lighting and sound designers to costume and set-building people—that mean I’ve got to juggle a lot of balls.”
During the summer, the theater staff is immersed in planning and preparing for the upcoming season. Billman and his team leaders go over a comprehensive list of what is needed to bring each show to the stage. They then build each team to make it all come together. Plans and artistic proposals are submitted, and Billman goes to work fine-tuning all of the elements to fall within his vision and the production budget for each upcoming show. During a typical season the theater has about 55 staffers and interns, and Billman likes to do what he can to ensure they all have a positive work-life balance. “Making sure that everyone is comfortable and productive means they’re happier, and will ultimately do everything they can to present our ticket holders with the best theatrical product we can.”
The results have proven that they must be doing something right in providing impressive live theater to the region. Florida Rep’s shows have resulted in much critical acclaim: The Wall Street Journal called it “one of America’s top repertory companies;” it has been named “Best Performing Arts Group” numerous times by Gulfshore Life Magazine and Florida Weekly. The theater’s work has also been featured in the New York Times and covered in American Theatre Magazine.
The Florida Repertory Theatre is known as an innovative local theater group, bringing in the best talent for each facet of every show in order to put on the best production. Scenic designers, set design and fabrication artists, lighting professionals and costume designers are all hired specifically for each show. “Fortunately, I’m able to build each team of individuals who then all work together to make sure we put on the best show we can,” Billman says.
Production manager Billman has had theater in his blood since he was a teenager, and his passion for the work has not waned. “It’s really rewarding when our audience loves our shows,” he says, “and that is one of the things that keeps my creative fires burning.”
Kelly Madden is a local marketing professional and freelance writer who lives in Lee County.