In Memoriam: Gary (Frog) Justesen

by Michael Eddy
Gary (Frog) Justesen
Gary (Frog) Justesen

Stage Directions has learned of the unexpected passing of Gary "Frog" Justesen on July 2, 2019 at the age of 69. He was the owner of Oasis Stage Werks, a theatrical lighting, staging, and rigging company based in Salt Lake City, which he started in 1977. Justesen was also one of the founding members of the Theatrical Dealers Association, which later became ESTA and was a staunch supporter of ESTA’s Standards, Certification, and Safety programs. He was a well-liked icon in the entertainment industry.

Oasis Stage Werks released this statement:
Dear Valued Customers and Friends,
It is with deep sorrow that our fearless and loved leader, Gary Justesen, better known as Frog, has passed. 
Oasis Stage Werks will be closed until July 8th.
Funeral arrangements will be posted at a later date.
Thank you and God Bless.

Our sincere condolences go out to his family, friends, industry colleagues and everyone at Oasis Stage Werks.

Here is a fuller obituary for Frog:
Gary Justesen, better known as Frog, passed away unexpectedly on July 2, 2019. He was born on September 9, 1949, in Murray, Utah, the eldest of the six sons of Glade Clifford and Margaret Elaine (Toomer) Justesen.

Gary was raised in Kearns, Utah, and attended Cyprus High School. It was there that began to develop his love for the theatre and all things performance related. He attended the University of Utah, majoring in a music degree. He then joined the Marine Corps, and ended up serving in Viet Nam where he was a forward reconnaissance radio man.

Frog’s experiences in the entertainment industry were as varied as his personality.

On returning to Utah after his deployment, he pursued his love of production and spent the next several years touring with several well known performers, including Ballet West, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, and many others. Learning his craft and when necessary, inventing and developing the craft itself. The early days of the technical performance Industry were new and unchartered territory. Much of what he learned and developed, he has passed on generously to hundreds of others, leaving a legacy of enriched artists and technicians whom he mentored, encouraged and trained.

During these years, he developed his long term relationship with New York City Ballet. He spent the next 45 years continuing to tour with them, traveling throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and South America.

In 1977, Frog realized that the Salt Lake City desperately needed a company to support the growing performing arts in the area. He started Oasis Stage Werks that same year. He was an avid supporter of all levels of performers and technicians, whether a middle school teacher trying to figure out how the lights worked, or helping a fledgling Festival that became the Sundance Film Festival, helping turn a sleepy mountain town into a world renowned Festival showcase.

Frog was a founding member of the Theatrical Dealers Association, later to become the Entertainment Services and Technology Association. He was an active participant in the Technical Standards Program and the Entertainment Technician Certification Program. His support of those programs helped them spread throughout the industry through financial support, sitting on committees, providing training and sharing his by then vast technical expertise, as well as directing members of his own company to serve and support these endeavors.

Frog always put his money (and energy) where his mouth was. A man who truly “walked like he talked”.

He felt it was necessary to give back to the industry that had supported him over the years. In addition to his support of ESTA, he also supported USITT, and was very happy when the Intermountain Desert Region chapter of USITT was formed. His generosity extended to the high school theatre level as well. He awarded dozens of scholarships over the years to high school students through the Utah Theatre Association, in order to help them pursue their interest in technical theatre.

His presence will be sorely missed. He touched more lives in more ways than he ever knew. As a person he was generous to a fault, kind, encouraging… and just plain fun to be around.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Behind the Scenes Charity, at www.btshelp.org/donate or www.behindthescenescharity.org 

Frog was preceded in death by his sister, Glae Deen, and his mother and father. He is survived by his wife, Becky, and brothers Kirby (Pam), Kimball (Kate), Tom (Terri), Rick (Collette) Brian (Jennifer), and many nieces and nephews.

Viewing sessions will be held at Larkin Mortuary at 260 East South Temple, Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 9th from 6-8 p.m., and Wednesday, July 10th from 9:30-10:45 a.m.  Funeral services will commence Wednesday July 10th in the Larkin Mortuary chapel at 11:00 a.m. Interment will follow at the Spring City Cemetery in Sanpete County.

Editor's Note: I originally met Frog when I worked at Rosco and continued to see him when I worked at Electronic Theatre Controls. He was a huge presence and always had a big smile when he saw you. He would remember everyone's name and greet them like a long lost friend when reconnecting at a trade show or industry event. He was a blast at the LDI W.E.T. fishing tournement that Wybron, ETC, and TMB sponsored every year. He was some times cantankerous and while he was an innovator, a hard worker, and ran a good shop, he could sometimes exasperate people and like many, you wondered how he could get away with all he did in life! I will miss his big laugh and his jokes. Requiescat in Pace, Frog. - Michael S. Eddy