Metro-East Living

O’Fallon native is part of ‘Kinky Boots’ crew

Laura Prather has seen the stage production of “Kinky Boots” more than 225 times — always from more than 100 feet away.

“I’m up in the spotlight booth as high as you can be in the nosebleed seats,” said the 2002 O’Fallon Township High School grad. “I am one of the electricians who helps set up all the lights in the show.

“My primary focus is to run a follow spot. I work with two local electricians. I tell them which main characters they will be following. ... You do get comfortable. You know exactly where an actor is going to move. If they change it up, that keeps it fresh. When someone new goes in as an understudy, it’s fun seeing how they take over the role.”

She was in Dallas the day we talked to her, but is coming home when “Kinky Boots,” plays The Fox March 24 to April 5. The Tony-winning Best Musical is the story of Charlie Price, who inherits his father’s shoe factory. Looking to save the family business, Charlie turns to a fashionable friend, cabaret star Lola, who gives him an outrageous idea. Soon, the unlikely duo creates the most sensational footwear that’s ever rocked the runways of Milan, giving the factory and its hardworking family a sparkling new future.

“I like this production. It’s high energy and a lot of fun,” said Laura, 30. “What is the message? Be who you are and accept others for who they want to be. Music is a lot of fun, too. It’s written by Cindy Lauper. I am actually loving doing this.”

Laura grew up playing trumpet.

“I didn’t work on circuit boards as a kid. I was a musical type.”

She graduated in 2006 from Illinois State College in Normal with a double major of music business and theatre production design.

Coursework covered theater’s many aspects.

“Lights, sound, carpentry. I have even done wardrobe,” said Laura. “Six months after I graduated, someone told me of a job opening. I got my first job as an electrician. I started my first tour in 2008. The rest is history.”

She has been on the road with the traveling companies of “Grease,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Fiddler on the Roof” (that played at the Peabody), and Disney ice shows such as“High School Musical: The Ice Tour” and “Winnie the Pooh.”

St. Louis is the 17th city on the “Kinky Boots” tour that started in August 2014.

Laura will arrive at The Fox later this month, along with two other electricians, four carpenters, two props guys, two sound guys and three wardrobe folks, including one star dresser, and one makeup artist.

“We bring in around 65 to 70 local hires to help us set up the show,” Laura said. “For the run of the show, we have 22 local hires to help move scenery, props, dress our actors, work with microphones and lighting. We also travel with 32 cast members, three stage managers, two company managers and five musicians. We hire additional musicians in every city to complete our orchestra for our show.”

Eight 53-foot semi trucks bring sets, automation, lighting, sound, props, costumes and makeup.

“Load in for the show takes 13 hours to install before the first performance,” Laura said. “Load out takes between 6 to 8 hours.”

By the time she gets to St. Louis, she will have traveled more than 12,000 miles with the show.

No wonder she’s looking forward to sleeping in her own bed.

“The thing I miss about home is visiting with family and friends.”

Laura is the daughter of John and Dala Prather, of O’Fallon. Her father, a former Air Force pilot, works for the Housing Authority of East St. Louis. Her mother is a nurse. Older brother, John David, works in avionics.

We asked Laura a few questions about her job.

What does it take to succeed? “You have to be good at working with people. Pay attention to detail. We work with a lot of different equipment. You have to know how to fix it, put it together. I work with four to 12 electricians, in a city to set up a show. ... You can go to school and learn, but it’s helpful to learn at the job site. You pick up knowledge from people who’ve been in the business a long time.”

What is a challenge? “You will go into a theater. They are all different sizes. You have to adapt to space limitations. If there’s a lot of space, it’s an easy (job.) A tiny theater is a harder challenge.”

What’s it like being a gypsy? “It’s definitely a lifestyle. It’s not for everyone. You get accustomed to it, traveling the country, seeing a lot of places. Countries I have visited while touring are Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Russia, and China. I have toured in every state except for Hawaii. ...You hang out or go out with certain friends you enjoy being with. It’s a different lifestyle but we all enjoy doing it. We work with each other, hang out with each other and see each other a lot.”

What do you do for meals? “I get to try food from around the country. I always have something different. Yesterday, I went to a cool burger place. They gave you the name of an artist when you paid, and called that name so you could collect your food. I was (rapper) Foxy Brown.”

Do you ever have problems on the set? “Once in a blue moon. When the lights shut off completely, we had to stop the show and figure out what was happening to continue. Another problem moment? Something tripped the fire alarms. The show was cancelled because there were only 10 minutes left.”