By Manus Hopkins
Growing up in Alberta, Mike Kapler was mostly interested in outdoor activities like backcountry camping, hiking, and rock and ice climbing in the mountains near Edmonton. But in 1994, by helping his best friend build the set for a high school drama production, Kapler discovered a whole new area of interest in the backstage world of theatre.
After his first experience building a set, Kapler immediately searched and found a “Behind the Scenes” class for teenagers at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert, AB. The weekly class taught him and his classmates practically everything they needed to know about theatre production. At the end of the course, they finished the curriculum by helping build and execute the technical production requirements of the annual St. Albert Children’s Theatre musical production.
“I was hooked, and I spent most of my time at the theatre after school and on the weekends learning everything I could,” Kapler recalls.
During this time, Kapler would hang lights, cut gels, and do whatever else he could to help out, and he learned how to program cues in the ETC console. He also joined the student union and drama club at his high school, which he convinced to raise some money to buy a small PA for events. He then approached Gary Meiklejohn, who was the GM at Production Lighting in Edmonton at the time, for some lights for the high school’s annual air bands concert.
“Gary was amazing,” Kapler says. “He let me load up my parents’ minivan with some Mac 600s, 500s, and a Jands 500. I think he rented the package for next to nothing. I was ecstatic and decided that lighting was going to be my focus from that point forward.”
Shortly thereafter, Kapler went to see The Tragically Hip in concert in Edmonton and was blown away by the production value. “I knew for sure that I wanted to do that someday!” he adds.
After graduating high school, Kapler attended the theatre production program at Grant MacEwan College, but found his interest leaning closer to live events. He occasionally skipped classes to work on any events he could. Eventually, Mike decided not to continue in the program. He soon flew to Los Angeles to take a job working for Carnival Cruise Lines as a lighting technician.
“I ended up working on a smaller ship that only had myself and an audio tech so I was immediately in charge of all the lighting, pyro, lasers, set, and special FX,” he says. “It was a dream to be able to manage all this high-end equipment at 19 years old!”
After Kapler’s six-month contract ended, he moved to Edmonton, where Meiklejohn immediately offered him a full-time job with Production Lighting. Kapler started by working in the shop, prepping shows, keeping the warehouse clean, and delivering gear to events.
“I worked my way up from working on the shows to eventually designing, operating, and being the ME on most of the shows,” he says. “I knew that I always wanted to tour and was looking for any opportunity.”
Over the next stage of his career, that’s exactly what Kapler did. He started doing small tours of western Canada with Production Lighting, and eventually trekked around the country with a Queen tribute act, before going global as the production’s LD in countries including Australia and Turkey.
“Touring was now in my blood, and I wanted more,” says Kapler. “I ended back in Canada in 2007 when I got a call from Christie Lites to fly out the next day and replace a lighting tech on the Tragically Hip. It was my first proper tour with multiple trucks and busses. I remember my first night on the bus asking if I could bum a beer from someone and pay them back not knowing that everything on the bus was free.”
On a tour stop in Toronto, Kapler met another Christie Lites rep, Martin Kelley. Little did he know at the time that meeting Kelley would change everything.
“As soon as the Hip were done, Martin trusted me to go out with The Killers as the dimmer tech for their North American tour,” Kapler recounts. “After two months I wanted more and Martin kept me busy! I ended up immediately going on tour with Linkin Park then jumping from tour to tour. Along the way I started to get the itch to be behind the console and looked for opportunities. Thankfully, I was given my first opportunity to operate while on tour with Linkin Park as the LD at the time, AJ Pen, left for a week for the birth of his second child. It was an amazing experience and I looked for more options. It didn’t take long… while at pre-pro for Sigur Ros, the LD had to take a leave due to illness and I was asked to take over before the tour even started.”
Kapler toured the world extensively with The Killers for many years, and ended up moving to Toronto to be closer to his family and girlfriend (now wife) and seek a more stable home life. He continued to work closely with Martin Kelley advancing tours and managing local shows for him. Kapler also continued working events but slowly picked up more roles as a technical production manager. In 2017, he started to work more consistently in that role with InFrame Designs. Eventually, he ended up working for InFrame so often that they brought him on as their director of operations in early 2020.
“Since then I have been the technical production manager for the majority of their shows such as the Juno Awards, CCMA Awards, Canada’s Got Talent, and Elevate Festival to name a few,” says Kapler. “I love that the lighting industry is such a well-rounded element of the show that involves every department.”
Manus Hopkins is a freelance writer based in Toronto.