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Chris Porter sat in during rehearsals of Grease at the Winter Garden and felt confident he could get through the show.

The Globe and Mail

With the series Applause, Please, The Globe and Mail recognizes the efforts of dedicated citizens and those behind the scenes who make a difference in arts and cultural programs and institutions.

When veteran stage manager Chris Porter worked on Cirque du Soleil's water-themed production of O at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, there was an emergency procedure in place called "save the show." It involved sending out the clowns (literally), who would improvise until a technical situation could be resolved.

Recently, however, Porter himself was called upon to save a show in Toronto. He was working at an afternoon rehearsal at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres for a pantomime production of A Christmas Carol when an emergency threatened to cause the cancellation of a preview performance of Grease upstairs that night at the Winter Garden. The stage manager of the raunchy, fifties-set musical had fallen ill. Could Porter step in?

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"It was not an easy decision," says Porter, who has called the shots on such showy productions as War Horse and The Lord of the Rings. "And time was of the essence. The show was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. – about six hours away."

The theatre stage manager runs the show, working side stage at a command centre, calling all the cues involving lighting, music and scene transitions. Fortunately, Porter had worked on Grease productions previously, and the "calling book" of stage directions for the production at the Winter Garden was in excellent shape.

Porter was able to sit in a rehearsal that afternoon. "I felt confident I could get through the performance." That confidence, according to Porter, extended to the rest of the staff and actors.

"Most of them had never met me, but everybody had faith in me. It was a communal rally to achieve something that moments before might have seemed impossible. Everybody has to be on board for it, and that was definitely the case with everyone involved with Grease."

The show about fast cars and faster women went off without any major hitches, hitting its cylinders finely. The show must go on? It's a maxim, not a cliché.

Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to bwheeler@globeandmail.com

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