Monday, February 2, 2009

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Opera

Much like a movie, a lot of behind-the-curtain work goes into an opera. Flip through the program and you'll see hundreds of people who make it all come together – and that's not even including the thousands of donors and patrons whose financial contributions help make it all possible. Though I can't interview everyone who works on The Pearl Fishers, I wanted to talk with some of the crew and get a feel for what they do. So I got to peek inside the brains of our two assistant stage managers (ASMs), Katie Riedel and Whitney Martin, and learned a little bit about what it is that they do.

What does an assistant stage manager do? What’s your main function?
Katie: The ASM is like an artist liaison. We are usually responsible for the organization and communication between crew and artist. A lot of times the duties are split--for instance, in this show I am in charge of communicating with the Wardrobe and Wig/Makeup department whereas Whitney communicates with Props. We are the "people persons." We direct the flow of people backstage by knowing where everyone needs to be and when.

Whitney: The assistant stage manager is responsible for acting as the crew during the rehearsal process. They are usually given a part of the show to be the liaison for. In this show, I am responsible for all the props. This means that it is my job to generate all the paperwork the crew will need to manage all the props once we get to the theatre. Often, this means an inventory list, a prop preset list, and a prop running sheet. The other ASM on this show is in charge of costumes and so it is her job to do the same for the wardrobe crew on the show. The ASMs are responsible for keeping the rehearsal hall clean and set for that day's rehearsal. When the director tells us which scenes he wants to rehearse that day, it is our job to make sure that all the props and costume pieces that they need for that day are in their proper place. It may also mean that we will need to step in and walk the part of singers that are not called to that rehearsal. During a rehearsal, we are responsible for keeping track of every entrance, exit, prop, and costume that is on our side of the stage. We usually "call" the entrances which means that we tell the singers when to go onstage. Because an opera is so music specific as far as action is concerned, it is our job to make sure that the entrances, exits, etc. stay consistent and with the music. Once we are onstage we are also responsible for the safety of the singers. Many times, there are pieces of scenery or drops that are moving at times that the singers may or may not be aware of, and it's our job to make sure that we keep them out of the way of moving scenery, drops, etc.

What are you looking forward to with this show?
Katie: I am looking forward to learning as much as I can from the brilliant staff and crew I will be working with.

Whitney: I'm looking forward to working with Heidi and Brian again! I worked with both of them in Houston. I'm also excited about working at Opera Colorado for the first time. I always love getting to try out new companies.

What are you nervous about with this show? What challenges do you anticipate?
Katie: The only nervous energy I have is excitement. I am looking forward to all aspects of this show and I am proud to be part of the Opera Colorado Team. I foresee many challenges (as with any show) who is to say what they will be? You have to be ready for anything. I do know however, I will approach each one with a healthy sense of humor and a good dose of patience.

Whitney: It's always a challenge working at a new company, getting to know how things work. This show is actually pretty simple for me because I ASMed on this exact show in DC about 3 months ago. It is VERY fresh in my mind so it makes it a lot easier to know what is coming up.

What would you tell someone who’d never seen an opera to convince them to see this one?
Katie: I think this show embodies talented principals, gifted dancers and wonderful costuming. I think the storyline is fun because it is somewhat magical and fantastical while staying grounded in true human emotion. I also think the music is just plain beautiful - and that's why we continue to support opera, isn't it?

Whitney: Well, the plot is pretty simple and easy to follow, which is always good for people new to opera. There is also a lot of beautiful dance in this production. John Malashock does a wonderful job of moving the show forward with dance. The costumes and set are also stunning. This is just a beautiful show.

Do you have a favorite scene in the opera?
Katie: So far my favorite scene is the opening with the dancers. It's wonderful to see such great choreography in opera. Perhaps that will change after we rehearse it 1000 times!

Whitney: My favorite scene is Nadir's aria after the entrance of Leila. It's just so beautiful and the way Andrew Sinclair blocks the scene shift that happens during the aria really leaves me breathless.

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