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From rough sketch (top) to final skit (bottom), Dena Dyer (left) and Wendy Hearn polish their “cheerleader” routine for a Rockbox Theater show. Every week, cast and crew work 30 hours putting together a two-hour show that features favorites from past performances seasoned with updated songs and comedy bits. The cast presents four live shows every weekend. Photos by Phil Houseal

Showtimes for Rockbox Theater are Friday - 8 PM, Saturday - 4:30 & 8 PM, Sunday - 1:30 PM. Ticket pricing: Adults $28-40, Youth (17 and under) $15

Located at 109 N Llano Street, Fredericksburg, TX 78624. Call (866) 349-6688 (toll-free), (830) 997-7625 (local), or email info@rockboxtheater.com. Click here for article on Rockbox Theater's Fredericksburg opening.
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Rockbox Theater: Behind the curtain

by Phil Houseal
April 29, 2009

The old saying is you don't want to watch how they make laws or sausage. But I was curious how the crew at the Rockbox Theater comes up with a new show each and every week year round.

A peek behind the curtain proved it’s nothing like a sausage factory. It’s an energetic mix of zany fun and hard work that is almost as interesting to watch as the final show.

The cast - Russ and Wendy Hearn, Carey and Dena Dyer, Linda Morgan, T.J. Smith; the band - Cass Moore, Mark Best, Jacob Longoria; and crew put in a full week of work preparing for their four live weekend shows.

Russ Hearn estimates that the team spends 30 hours a week coming up with a show that consists of two 50-minute sets. That doesn’t include the individual work members put in writing, brainstorming and “woodshedding.” (“Woodshedding,” Cass explained, “refers to going out and practicing in the woodshed.”)

A typical week begins with a brainstorming session on Tuesday, with cast members bouncing ideas off each other for new routines. Wednesday is a full day of meetings and rehearsals, with the focus on working up new material.

Thursday brings tech rehearsal, when the cast runs through new pieces for the first time, meshing it with existing bits from previous shows. The crew goes through the script and works out cues for staging, lighting, video and sound.

Friday is the day to do the “total live ammo dress rehearsal,” according to Hearn. “We could open the doors at 4:30 and have a show.”

The process is an alchemy of structure and freedom. The day I stopped in, the band was working out the music for Boston’s More than a Feeling, the crew was tracing down signal loss in an amplifier, and Wendy and Dena were putting the finishing “rah rahs” on an updated cheerleader skit, which had the unoccupied cast and crew cracking up.

Everything seemed to be happening at once. But there is method to the Rockbox madness.

“We definitely have a collaborative process,” Russ said. “We get input from everybody. It makes for a more dynamic process. I am like the general contractor; I keep everybody accountable. But at end of day everyone is involved, everyone is contributing.”

The result is a show that flows seamlessly from spot on songs from the heyday of rock to drop dead funny bits such as “Mo and Bro” and “Doe-hemian Rhapsody,” a twisted hill country take on the Queen classic. The focus is always on the music first.

“We know people come in for the music,” Russ said. “If we are funny and don’t have the music to back it up, that is not good. If we have music, and are funny on top of that, it works. But when you have people laughing you have them opening up and relaxing. We set that up, and hopefully we deliver.”

Not only do they deliver, the cast keeps delivering while updating and changing.

“Even if we have done a bit 4000 times, if we find a funnier joke or moment, we’ll change it,” said Dena Dyer. “The audience appreciates that. Our regulars notice when we change things.”

Show prep really never ends, and that’s a good thing according to Wendy Hearn.

“It is great to have the flexibility to change things,” she said. “We have the time because we are here, we are rehearsing. We are at work. We are not pushing a pencil, but this is our job.”

By 7:30 on Friday night, the doors open for real. The week’s “woodshedding” ends and showtime begins. For the first time cast and crew will see if their instincts are correct. After performing more than 1800 shows together, they usually are.

By Sunday afternoon, it is over.

A day off, and the work begins again.