There are no exploding chandeliers in “Hamilton” and no boats or elaborate castles. There’s not even a set that changes from scene to scene.
But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of moving parts in the Tony Award-winning musical inspired by the life of Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first treasury secretary. There are rifles, for instance, used in the battle of Yorktown scene, and dueling pistols, of course. There are beer steins and champagne glasses, tables, desks and chairs.
And there’s paper. Lots of paper, which seems appropriate for a show about a man who writes like he’s running out of time. Copies of the Reynolds Pamphlet, for instance, and letters. Many letters.
Keeping all these props organized and in good working order is a task that falls to a show’s property master, and for this tour of “Hamilton” opening in Spokane on Tuesday, that property master is Spokane native Mike Eickmeyer.
He and an assistant property master will work with two local stage hands to clean, repair and do general maintenance on a variety of furnishings and objects used in the Tony-winning Broadway musical during its run in town.
“The repair is probably the hardest part, keeping up with the maintenance and repair,” Eickmeyer said by phone from Portland, where “Hamilton” is ending a run for the weekend. “There are so many moving parts to it, there’s a lot of wear and tear on things. And plus moving the show, where things are getting put into boxes and a trailer and getting bounced down the road, then getting taken out and used. It’s a lot of wear and tear on things.”
He describes the work that goes on backstage – of making sure things are where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, as “choreography.”
“Sometimes there’s more than what happens on stage, as far as getting things moved around and getting them into place with people coming off stage and getting things on stage,” he said, adding that with this show, it helps there isn’t scenery that has to shift. “It’s just tables and chairs that are going on or coming off, or something an actor is carrying, so it’s not as much of an issue of ‘this has got to be right here, right now.’ There only are a few of those things. That’s the easy part about this show.”
One thing he and the backstage teams strive for, he said, is boredom.
“If we’re bored backstage, that means everything is going really well,” Eickmeyer said. “Don’t get me wrong, we like the excitement when things go awry, because that’s the excitement of our day, but we really try not to do that. If you’re bored, we’re doing good. Everything is moving exactly as it’s supposed to.”
Eickmeyer started working in theater during his years at Shadle Park High School, where he graduated from in 1996. After that, he joined the IATSE Local 93, the Spokane stagehands union and worked shows at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and the Opera House, as the First Interstate Center of the Arts was called back then.
He did that for five years before he landed on his first tour, for a show called “Swing.” He’s gone on to work on tours of “Wicked,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” and “Grease,” and he’s worked on Broadway, too. “Hamilton” is not the first show Eickmeyer has had an opportunity to bring home. There was “Swing,” his first, and a tour of “The Producers.” He most recently came home with “War Horse,” in 2013.
Moving the show is also part of Eickmeyer’s job. In addition to packing up all the props, his team loads costumes and orchestra gear on and off the truck. They’ll finish their Portland run Sunday, load everything onto pallets and then onto trucks, then drive it to Spokane. On Monday, they’ll do their load-in at the FICA.
His first time moving “Hamilton” was probably the most challenging. He joined this current tour in late 2018 and was there when it opened in Puerto Rico in early 2019. From there, the show moved to San Francisco for a run that lasted just over a year before COVID shut it down. Normally, Eickmeyer and his team would load all the sets, props and gear onto trucks and drive them to the next city. As one can’t drive from Puerto Rico, the production had to use other means.
“That was the longest jump I’d ever done, from Puerto Rico to San Francisco, moving a show,” Eickmeyer said. “We rented a FedEx 767 plane, and that’s how we got all the gear from Puerto Rico and San Francisco.”
During the 18 months that live theater was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eickmeyer did what everyone else in his industry did – he got off the road and stayed at home. It gave him time to do some work on his Shadle-area home, but Eickmeyer was quite eager to get back to work.
“It was really nice to get back to work,” he said. “One hard part of the shutdown is we’re used to going all the time. You’re always doing something, always going, it’s go, go, go.
“And then to just go from doing this all the time and then you’re like, ‘What do I do now? What do I do?’ It was very strange.”
And he is looking forward to sleeping in his own bed during the show’s stay in Spokane, rather than living out of a suitcase in a hotel or an Airbnb.
He’s also looking forward to seeing family and friends, and enjoying a burger from Dick’s.
“It’s going to be very nice,” Eickmeyer said. “My parents still live there and I have a bunch of friends still there. I’ll get to see them. I have some other family coming in to see the show.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated. “Hamilton” ran in San Francisco for more than a year before it was cut short by the pandemic. The original version had the incorrect length of the run.
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