YOU MIGHT be forgiven for believing that Rick Larsen is a furniture mover. That’s usually what he’s seen doing on concert stages where the Cabrillo Festival orchestra and the Monterey and Santa Cruz Symphonies perform. Or, I should say, was seen until he retired as Technical Director for Cabrillo in 2010 and from the Santa Cruz Symphony last fall; he continues with the Monterey Symphony “season by season” on an as-needed basis. He has also provided stage management for Youth Music Monterey County.
In fact, Larsen’s principal profession is lighting and grip, and his primary clients for those services have been theater companies, movie and television producers and a slew of such well-known Silicon Valley corporations as Hewlett Packard, Ebay, PayPal, Apple and Netflix, the latter group for making videos and staging live events, which, he says, “pay fairly well.”
Larsen learned his particular stagecraft at Cabrillo College. But as a versatile and dependable worker in the performing arts the Santa Cruz resident continually added to his resumé and gained a reputation that found him engagements all over.
Larsen began his connections with the Cabrillo Festival and SC Symphony in 1981, when he was still a student at Cabrillo and both presenters used facilities at the college at the time. “Then I went out into the big world.” He soon added the short-lived California Repertory Theatre in Pacific Grove, then did lighting for El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Baustista over a ten-year period ending in 1994. (Right, Rick at the Fox Theatre, Watsonville.)
“I’ve had a longer career in music than theater,” he says, adding that he’s taken shows to New York and Los Angeles. “It was an amazing but exhausting time.” Mostly for economic reasons he’s gravitated toward music, which he loves deeply. “I used to do the Christmas pageants in San Juan, but getting all of that together I would spend easily six weeks on that one show, but make barely as much as doing an orchestra concert for a week.”
“I was telling my wife the other day, about Kate’s last concert.” (Kate Tamarkin was Monterey Symphony music director prior to the arrival of Max Bragado.) “It was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and I will always remember the truly remarkable production, with orchestra and chorus. We were opening at Sherwood Hall. When I arrived, thousands of cars filled the parking lot and nearby streets. It turned out there was a monster truck event at the adjacent Rodeo Grounds that had sold 8,000 tickets. The Symphony audience was about 300. I thought, how brave it was to work on and play one of the greatest works of classical music for only 300, versus the 8,000 across the way.” Characterizing it as ‘doing difficult things with no money,’ he marvels at the dedication of the office staff, the board members who raise the money, and the musicians, some of whom come hundreds of miles to play with the Monterey Symphony.
Typically, Larsen has a crew of five. But, “If it’s an opera, as many as 18 people, like when the Monterey Symphony did Amahl and the Night Visitors.” He delivers a labor order to the local stagehands union, and gets “exactly who I want 99 percent of the time.” In staging an orchestra concert, Larsen says “the most valuable thing is protecting the time. The conductor and musicians need all the time they can get for rehearsing and performing.” To that end, Larsen runs a very tight ship. “I always start a show on time unless I am told to hold off.”
If you ask Larsen about the music itself, he’ll pull up any number of favorite stories. “Many years ago, when the Cabrillo Festival produced concerts in a large tent at UCSC, I was introduced to the music of Arvo Pärt for the first time.” Today, Larsen is largely in retirement mode, but “I still feel I have something of value to contribute.” Reflecting back, he says his whole career has been “beside” the performing arts. He keeps his local connections open, and retains his corporate clients. “My wife and I bought ten acres of land in Central Utah, near Grand Staircase National Monument,” he says. “Now, at our place there, we listen to Pärt and gaze out at the incredible scenery.” Later this year they’re planning to spend six weeks in Lucca, Tuscany. But, “I’ll never fully leave Santa Cruz.”