Richard Earl Lasters sister remembers when she got a backstage look at Mr. Lasters job as production stage manager for Casa Manana. It was 1995, and Mr. Laster and his crew were working on a set for Always ... Patsy Cline, about the relationship between country-music legend Patsy Cline and Louise Seger, a fan who became one of her closest friends.
I watched him and his team from the beginning [of set-building] till the show started, Micheale Laster-Wicks says. He must have had 20 people, and they all had saws and nails and so forth, and he was directing them. To me, it looked like it was something that would have taken a week to put together. And in one afternoon, he had it all together.
Always was just one of scores of plays and musicals that Mr. Laster, who died Nov. 2 at age 60 in Fort Worth, had worked on at Casa, at Houstons Alley Theatre, and in theater companies nationwide. His credits, sent to DFW.com by Mr. Lasters brother, Randy Laster, stretch on for six pages and even include a 1990 production of Whos Afraid of Virgina Woolf? that toured Lithuania in 1990.
But the Fort Worth native was most connected with Casa, where he wasnt completely behind the scenes according to a 1993 Star-Telegram report, Casa audiences could see Mr. Laster during scene changes, as he and his crew sprinted up the aisles that radiated from the circular stage. From 1975 to 1996, Mr. Laster worked the summer seasons at Casa, where his ashes will be spread during a ceremony at 9 a.m. Sunday. Mr. Lasters family and many people who worked with him during his decades at Casa Manana are expected to attend.
After learning of Mr. Lasters death, local actor George X. Rodriguez, who had often appeared at Casa, set up a memorial page on Facebook, because so many people had been affected by Mr. Laster.
For us, the majority of the successes we took along with us, and certainly the success of the shows, were based upon Richard, Rodriguez says. He was a mentor to us; for many of us a first boss, and as an educator[myself] now, Ive come to really appreciate that so many successes are based upon your first experience. Richard always made it a good experience for us, because he was tremendously efficient at what he did.
Rodriguez says that Mr. Laster was also responsible for many of Casas special events and gatherings, such as theme parties including the Casa Manana Summer Prom or the Casa Manana Celebrity Softball Tournament. During the 80s, Rodriguez says, Mr. Laster arranged a ticket swap with Six Flags Over Texas, in which the theme parks employees could come to Casa shows for free while Casa actors and and crew people who were off could enjoy a day at Six Flags.
Mr. Lasters interest in theater began when he was at Haltom High School, where he graduated in 1970, Laster-Wicks says. The Lasters' father was good at carpentry, and he passed that skill down to Mr. Laster. Although Mr. Laster excelled onstage in several plays, Laster-Wicks says, he began working more backstage, where he could use his carpentry skills.
In 1970, Mr. Laster (who also attended Tarrant County Junior College and Texas Christian University) became involved with Windmill Dinner Theatre, which was then on Forest Park Boulevard in Fort Worth. They asked me one day if Id like to work backstage, he told the Star-Telegram in 1981. Ive been at it ever since.
He began as a crew member, working up to assistant stage manager and then stage manager in a production of Bus Stop that featured future Knots Landing star Ted Shackelford. Bud Franks, who was also at Windmill at the time, became executive prodycer/general manager at Casa in 1975 and brought Mr. Laster along with him, Laster-Wicks says. In 1975 alone, Mr. Laster worked on shows featuring Howard Keel, Roger Miller, Van Johnson, Martha Raye, Gary Collins, Mary Ann Mobley, singer Vikki Carr and Casa favorite Ruta Lee.
Mr. Laster also worked at a Windmill location in Addison, and as early as 1974 he began working for theater companies in other cities, including Englewood, Colo.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Naples, Florida. In 1982, he also began eight years of working on a recurring basis at Houstons Alley Theater, and in 1988 he was production manager for a nationwide tour of Dreamgirls.
On the Facebook memorial page, Mr. Lasters friends and colleagues remember him as an unflappable mentor who could anticipate the needs of directors and actors and crew, and could keep a cool head during chaos.
In one of the posts, Van Kaplan, who was executive producer and general manager of Casa Manana during the 1990s, recalls a production of Sugar, a musical version of Some Like it Hot starring Arte Johnson of Rowan & Martins Laugh-In. During one scene, Johnson, dressed in drag, was supposed to climb into the upper berth of a sleeping car on a train. But the ladder Johnson was suopposed to use, which had to be tied down for set-change purposes earlier in the production, remained tied during the scene, as a hapless Johnson tried unsuccessfully to make it budge.
[Mr. Laster] calmly walked down the aisle and onstage, Kaplan writes. He pulled out his pocketknife and cut the cord holding the ladder and it fell gently to the floor. He simply turned around and walked offstage to the largest exit applause I ever heard at Casa.
In 1996, Mr. Laster left Casa, and during the next 10 years he worked for companies in Durango, Colo., and Galveston and Houston. From 2001 to 2005, he was the director of operations and production manager for Houstons Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
Mr. Lasters interests werent limited to theater. Laster-Wicks says that he was such a history buff that he could answer just about any historical question that he was asked, and that he could keep up with the best of the contestants on Jeopardy! In 1981, Mr. Laster told the Star-Telegram that he also enjoyed tennis, scuba-diving, softball and Rangers games.
Besides Laster-Wicks and Randy Laster, Mr. Laster is survived by another brother, Robert.