Back-stage crew an integral part of Children’s Theatre production

March 16, 2019

While the stars of the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre draw their audiences’ attention to the stage, a team of kids dressed in black works in the shadows, controlling the moving parts that make the productions possible.

Wednesday was the first dress rehearsal for this weekend’s opening of “The Addams Family,” and while the cast members worked to adjust their eye-catching costumes, the technical crew toiled silently behind the scenes, their goal to disappear behind the lights and fog.

“Our whole thing is the audience isn’t supposed to know about us,” said Kadin Jones, 15.

While dozens of students flocked to auditions in February hoping to land one of the limited parts in the play; others opted to learn the crucial roles on the tech crew, pointing the spotlight away from themselves.

The secret hidden workings backstage have become a passion for Skylar Standenmayer. “The Addams Family” counts as his 23rd show with the Bigfork Center for Performing Arts, all of which he’s chosen to spend in the shadows. With four years of experience backstage under his belt, the 15-year-old has earned the position of backstage chief. His duties with the children’s theater productions involve him in most of the management backstage, ensuring the actors are present and ready, answering questions and “doing whatever else needs doing.”

His primary job, however, is working the fly lines that control the various backdrops used throughout the play.

More than 20 individual ropes and counterweight systems line the dimly lit wall to the right of the stage. Each show may utilize between eight or nine systems at a time, each connected to a specific backdrop that must be raised or lowered on cue with each changing scene.

During the summer, Standenmayer said he also works the spotlights for Summer Playhouse productions.

“I just really enjoy being backstage and being behind everything and feeling like that part that no one knows about back here,” Standenmayer said.

While the actors on stage deliver their lines and work to stay in character no matter what, the tech and backstage crew must ensure that, even when things go wrong, no one in the audience catches on.

“I think we usually see our job as the way we provide all the scenery for everything,” Standenmayer said. “I think we just see ourselves as the ones who make the scene out there that everyone’s filled with. Like if you were to take a walk in the park, it would be us that would set up the entire park around you.”

The giggling and fidgeting among the cast and crew fell silent and still as Lauren Maneval, 13, cued the opening music from the sound booth in the back, signaling the actors to take their places for their first full dress rehearsal.

Beside her, 15-year-old Faith Elhajj, set the scene with an eerie combination of colored lights, throwing a scarlet glow over the cast behind the curtain and transforming the stage into a haunted graveyard.

Hustling into position, the “Addams Family” characters began snapping along with their iconic theme song. The crew backstage snapped with them.

The curtain parted on a carefully timed cloud of fog as the actors burst into their opening lines and musical number.

Just out of sight, the movers and shakers mirrored the dance moves and mouthed the lines of their friends on stage while they waited for their cues. Most of them had each script, song and cue in the play memorized as well as the actors.

“It’s definitely a big job,” Maneval said, focused on the soundboard. “If there’s no music, there’s no singing.”

Now on her fourth show as part of the tech crew, Maneval said she has learned to use most of the sound equipment.

“It’s sometimes tricky, but I get the hang of it,” she said.

Her attention divided between two computers and a switchboard of her own, Elhajj worked to learn the different combinations and programs involved with the lights for what would be her first show on the tech crew.

“I would say since it’s my first lights show; it’s more hard because I’ve never done it before,” Elhajj said. “But I’m learning fast, and I think I’ll be ready by the show Friday.”

Like Elhajj, who had previously participated in two shows onstage, many of the tech team members opted for parts backstage due to their involvement in other activities that limited the time they could spend at play practice.

Her involvement in numerous sports prevented Grace Holtmeyer, 11, from auditioning for a role in the play, but her desire to stay involved in the production brought her back two weeks later to sign up for the tech crew. Slender and experienced around the stage, she made for the perfect spotlight operator, capable of maneuvering around the low, cramped space on the catwalk above the theater.

Undeterred by the heights, she crouched at her post, awaiting her cues from the booth before adjusting and aiming her spotlight as the characters onstage belted out their songs and lines.

When the time came to practice their bows, the actors, too, acknowledged the importance of the tech crew, welcoming them onto the stage and giving them a round of applause despite the lack of an audience.

Performances of “The Addams Family” began Friday and will continue March 16, 17, 22 and 23.

For more information, visit https://bigforksummerplayhouse.com/childrens-theatre/.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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