Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Opera

What does an Assistant Director (AD) do? That's an excellent question for the AD for The Tales of Hoffmann, Kathleen Stakenas. Kathleen has been an assistant director for two years, and had ten years of stage managing experience before. She was the Assistant Director for this opera when it was performed both at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Boston Lyric Opera.

"Putting on an opera is kind of like running a race. The stage manager and assistant stage managers get everyone to the starting line. I'm there to help them with the race."

Kathleen explained that her job is to help the director communicate the artistic vision of the production. In logistical terms, she helps get the show on its feet by ensuring everyone's where they need to be on stage in terms of staging and blocking. She often works with the chorus and supers while the director works with the principal artists.

It sounded just as hectic as being a stage manager, and Kathleen agreed. The artists and crew are only rehearsing for three weeks, which is actually a short time for an opera this size. This means everyone needs to be at the top of their game, since it's a longer show and they can't spend days rehearsing just one scene.

"There are so many people and costumes and props - there's no room for error. We hit the ground running and don't stop until opening night."

Hearing about this crazy backstage world, I'm always curious why people want to do this for a living. Most of the artistic and technical staff aren't part of any particular opera company; the artists, directors, assistant directors, stage managers and other staff are contracted by opera companies for a specific show. A lack of stability combined with the stress of putting on a grand production – what's the payoff?

"I love putting it all together from pages in a book to seeing it on stage. It begins with conceptualizing the show and you add in all the analytical elements – who stands where, when she sits down – and it's incredible. You get to look at something so amazing and think, 'I helped make that happen.'"

I know where she's coming from; every time I see all those patrons sitting at the Ellie, reading their programs that I helped create…well, I get a little excited every time. Ok, a lot excited. Ok, I do a little dance backstage where no one can see me.

I asked Kathleen what her favorite part of the show is. She explained that she loves how involved it is – that there were so many different components. Then she added she loves the robot and puppet costumes. And that there's dance, she loves that there's dance. And that there's two singers for the heroine and villain roles…and that Offenbach is a character…and how he and the muses pull the story together…and how colorful and vibrant the opera is…and how it has interesting staging…and plenty of comedic and dramatic elements…

"It's an amazing production. There's just so much that I think everyone will find something they love."

I asked Kathleen if there was anything about the opera she doesn't like.

"November 16," she said. "The day after the opera closes."

See you next Tuesday!

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