Strings Music Festival: Places, please
One of my jobs as stage manager at Strings is to get the shows started on time. In the crucial half-hour leading up to a performance, my most valuable tools are volume and repetition. Let me explain.
By 30 minutes prior to show time, all musicians are expected to be backstage in concert dress. That means there could be 25 or 30 formally attired people milling about, checking emails, chatting and warming up. Here’s where volume comes in, because I will stand at the stage door and project into the cacophony:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your half-hour call. Half hour to the top of the show. Half-hour.”
Why three times? Almost everyone is talking or otherwise engaged, so the first mention of “half-hour” is just to get their attention. During the second, only about half of the people have tuned in. The third time is for everyone left in the dark about what my announcement is.
The next call is 10 minutes prior to the show.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your 10-minute call. Ten minutes to the top of the show. Ten minutes.”
Next is the five-minute call. Repetition is my friend. There really shouldn’t be anyone backstage who is unaware of how close we are to showtime by this point.
The last official call for musicians happens two minutes before the performance is due to start.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your places call. Places, please, for the top of the show. Places.”
With this call, I (and stage managers around the world) expect the musicians to stand next to me at the stage right door, performance ready, either holding their instrument and music or with the same already onstage. Then the show can start.
The shows at Strings Music Festival this week all will follow this pattern, even though they’re quite different from one another: C Street Brass’ youth performance Tuesday morning; a classical string quartet Wednesday night; The Fab Four’s homage to The Beatles on Thursday night; and Gershwin, Ellington and Jazz with Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp dancers, C Street Brass and a jazz duo Saturday night. C Street Brass also will play Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in the Yampa River Botanic Park, but it’s pretty casual among the flowers, so we usually skip the formal calls for Music on the Green.
The process of getting musicians in the backstage door and keeping them calm and ready for a performance is relatively standard at concert halls around the world. One of the joys of live music is that it’s never the same way twice. At every rehearsal and every performance, the players make adjustments in tone and nuance and the music flows differently than it did the day before. But that kind of variety doesn’t belong in the quiet, preparatory moments leading up to showtime. We save that for the stage. In order to stay present and continue evolving a piece of music, musicians expect the same pattern of information from the stage manager at every venue. Part of my job is to provide that in a clear and recognizable way, the same way each time.
Say it loud. Say it often.
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