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Andrew Sords

Off-stage Preparation - Unsung Heroes

October 25, 2010 at 4:28 PM

 The energy throughout the hall is tangible – we reach the exciting coda, and orchestra, conductor and soloist executed the accelerando with flair.  Smiles flash, bow hairs break, and the rousing conclusion ignites an ovation.  Heartbeats elevated, everyone leaves the hall happy.  Yes, another thrilling concert concluded…and conductor and soloist thank friendly audience members for attending.  Who else is responsible for ensuring these concerts are performed without a hitch?  Well, let’s see…

In my dressing room this past weekend, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the fact that there truly are dozens behind the scenes who passionately and loyally tire to make sure that all the non-visible elements are in place…and are deserving of a standing ovation.  One individual I see often during a concert weekend is the stage manager – in charge of operations backstage and calling the lights/places/timing for concerts, they also oversee the dressing room situation for the artists.  At a certain hall I have often played is Patty.  Quite simply, she makes the backstage experience much more charming.  Surprises such as a candy, energy drinks (knowing my favorites!), and a welcoming smile greet me upon entering the backstage area.  A good stage manager is unfailingly kind, yet also assertive in ensuring punctuality.  Each stage manager will generally have 2-5 people working the backstage area with them with jobs of their own – likely unnoticed by those in the audience.  Once a capacity crowd appears (in a perfect world), the House Manager will delegate different tasks to ushers, patron services, and ticket-takers to ensure the audience has a pleasant listening experience.

Artistic management.  Anywhere between 12 and 36 months prior to said concert, the artist’s manager and orchestra administration will start to nail down dates, travel, and other pertinent details.  Once the concerto and date are decided, the publicity department will hammer out materials (bio, photos, press feeds, etc) to prompt ticket sales, handled by the crew in the box office.  The publicity materials involve the photographer(s), make-up artists, stylists, any assistants, editors, and opinions from friends and family on which photos should or shouldn’t be used.

Said artist’s manager – talk about a full-time job!  For a season with 40-60 concerts, this involves calendar planning, travel, contractual agreements, fee management, overseeing publicity, website, social media, and ensuring the artist is represented and treated well.  No easy task, for sure!  Appearing on tour with the Artist to meet with the staff of the orchestra, overseeing the preparation backstage, and generally deessing the process is part and parcel of the job description.  In my case, this often entails bringing bananas, a lint-roller, and sugar-free Red Bull.  I can also recall last minute emergencies – concert dates moved, airline voucher errors, and other such minor tragedies.  Additionally, the management will usually have their own “inner circle” of lawyers, photographers, and assistants to help with managing a touring schedule.

Prior to a successful performance, the violin teachers, rehearsal pianists, significant others, family members, and friends who lend an ear and helping hand easily nudge the number of those involved in the preparation of a single concert well into the dozens.  I am eternally grateful for everyone dedicated to the non-visible elements of this career.  Of course, the congenial orchestra members and Maestro are essential as well, but at your next concert, do thank a stagehand or usher for their assistance. :)


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 25, 2010 at 10:04 PM

Interesting and true... Behind each great person are many people working, spending time and paying money for that...  

Just for a normal amateur student, many people are behind every little suceess so I can just imagine everyone there is behind a whole orchestra... 


From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 26, 2010 at 12:14 AM

Thank you for your kindness and a thoughtful blog! I always thank the ushers and now I've read this, the "thank yous" will mean so much more.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 26, 2010 at 1:17 AM

 Enjoyed catching this backstage glimpse! Thanks for blogging about it.

From James Patterson
Posted on October 26, 2010 at 11:23 AM

If we're talking about a full orchestra concert, then let's not forget the librarian who has to get all the scores, making sure the guest conductor has the same edition (!) and marking the bowings, etc. ......

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