The effort that goes on to stage a show is almost as impressive as the event itself
There are untold secrets behind staging a production.
The work that goes into getting a production up and running is formidable. Brett Christopher, managing artistic director at Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Ont., is constantly reading plays and visiting other theatres, gathering intel on what would best work for his largely Eastern Ontario audience. The Playhouse stages everything from family musicals and comedies to hard-hitting documentary-style work and provocative political pieces.
“I noticed a theme emerging this year – outlaws and heroes,” Christopher says. “An artistic leader's personality is generally reflected in his or her programming and, in this case, I've exposed my own deep admiration for people who flout the status quo and, in doing so, move society forward.”
The Playhouse, which is located dockside on the St. Lawrence River, presents Boom X (May 28 to June 15) as part of its 2019 season. The show is written, directed and performed by Rick Miller, focusing on the music, politics and culture of Gen X.
Typically, once a director is on board, a team of designers who work in their individual milieus – including lighting, set, costume, projection and sound – match the director’s vision or concept for the play.
“These designs eventually find their way to our production team, who build the concept into reality,” Christopher says. “Before rehearsals even begin, the conceptual team has spent six months busily creating the play’s sandbox.”
The long lead time to get a production ready for the audience is common for most arts organizations. Often, the more popular the talent that is starring in the production, the longer it can take.
For Marshall Pynkoski, the co-artistic director of Opera Atelier in Toronto, the preparation to stage a work such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Oct. 31 to Nov. 9) in its themed 2019/20 season of Saints and Sinners is both daunting and exciting.
“You have to start putting in your bid for singers three or four years in advance,” says Pynkoski. “You’re dealing with agents filling their artist’s international schedule. It’s not just about money, it’s the repertoire and doing something that they are dying to sing.”
You have tostart putting inyour bid forsingers threeor four yearsin advance.— Marshall Pynkoski Co-artistic director Opera Atelier
The ambitious Opera Atelier production at the Ed Mirvish Theatre will mark bass baritone Douglas Williams’ role debut as Don Giovanni. It’s a comedy about an incorrigible young playboy.
Pynkoski will often consider top advertisers, including those working within the fashion industry, when creating publicity for a show that must be strongly conveyed to a potential audience.
“We’re changing all the time in terms of how we establish what we want to say,” Pynkoski says. “We are selling a luxury item. Imaging is terribly important for us. We have made a point of looking at the great advertisers internationally. You are selling a lifestyle, you are selling an idea. It’s like seeing a pair of jeans priced for, say, $1,000. How do you explain to people that it’s worth it and get them in the door?”
The creative team at Opera Atelier, including the designer, art director, photographer and videographer, takes a lot of time as it works to storyboard ideas that will project what the show will feel like, Pynkoski says.
“Today, videos are the way we can introduce who we are.”
Clear and concise storytelling is the key that will unlock the production and get “everything firing at all times,” he says.
“We choose with enormous care what we produce,” Pynkoski says.”Co-artistic director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and I will only be able to touch a fraction of the things I want to do in my life, so I have to be careful that the people around me and the audience love the story as much as we do.”
At the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO), planning for more than 100 concerts per season is a huge challenge, as it tries to offer a varied repertoire. It must appeal to different people while ranging from blockbusters and contemporary works to pops and family-friendly programs.
“The thing that drives us in terms of how a season comes together is keeping an eye and ear on who these concerts are for,” says TSO chief executive Matthew Loden. “The program comes together as we consider what the audience has expressed an interest in, as well as from a curatorial viewpoint, what we believe should be heard and understood. All this goes into identifying what works.”
There are many factors to consider when planning: juggling guest artists’ schedules, usually two or three years in advance; co-ordinating the schedules (including rehearsals and concerts) for close to 100 musicians; considering the availability of the venue (TSO regularly performs at Roy Thomson Hall). All of this must be done while fitting into subscriptions series and staying within budget.
The current TSO presentation of concerts that include the Beethoven Eroica Symphony (running to April 13) and the Mahler Resurrection Symphony (beginning on April 17), are part of a varied season while thoughts are already turning to the next season.
“We are already meeting on the 2020 season and we have sketched out the 2021/22 season, getting ahead with our planning while we are putting the puzzles together,” Loden says. “All of this is a fantastically collaborative effort.”
The one secret behind staging a successful production at TSO is practice, says Loden. “In order to support all the music that occurs onstage, you need to practise like a musician does; it’s a kind of muscle memory. Through routine and practice and thoughtfulness, you lay the foundation that supports the creation of a successful concert.”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.