Strings Music Festival: Wait, where do I go? A stage primer |

Strings Music Festival: Wait, where do I go? A stage primer

I’ve written about this for Strings Music Festival’s website before, but I think it bears repeating: I am directionally challenged. Someone who shall remain nameless (but who is married to me) once remarked that I couldn’t find my way “out of a paper bag.” This, unfortunately, is quite true. So I was thrilled that Steamboat Springs has landmarks such as U.S. Highway 40, the river and the mountains because I thought it would be impossible to get lost — until the day I spent 20 minutes driving around Safeway looking for my bank. Which is across the street from City Market.

But it’s my job to get people and things onstage quickly, efficiently and most importantly, in the right place for this week’s performances:

  • Tuesday, Youth: Smirk
  • Wednesday, Classical: An Evening with Menahem Pressler
  • Thursday, Music on the Green: C Street Brass
  • Friday, Different Tempo: Brent Rowan & Friends featuring Larry Gatlin
  • Saturday, Classical: Mozart and Dvořák

While I may be a little turned around out in the world, after 20 years of working in the arts, I’ve got my stage directions down pat. And I’m going to share my cheat sheet with you.

Let’s start with the basics. When you’re in the audience facing the stage, your right is house right and your left is house left. If you were a performer onstage facing the audience, your right is stage right and your left is stage left. So, stage right and house left are the same direction, from two different perspectives. For you skiers and riders, this is the same concept as skier right and mountain left.

Stage directions are static and independent of the performer. If you turn around and march to the stage wall with your back to the audience, stage left is on your right and stage right is on your left. This can be a really humbling moment for some performers, when they have to ask themselves, “Wait, it’s not all about me?”

If you’re onstage facing the audience, upstage is behind you (farther away from the audience) and downstage is in front of you (closer to the audience). Why do we say up and down when most modern stages, including Strings’, are flat? The terms are left over from when theaters were designed so that audiences stood on a flat floor in front of the stage and stood or sat in balconies all around the house. The stage itself was raked (higher in the back than in the front) so that all those flat-standers could see what was going on. In snowsports terms, upstage was up the hill and downstage was down the hill.

There’s one last set of directions to cover. A lot of equipment, curtains, backdrops and other good stuff are hung above the stage. When it’s time to move those things to stage level for scenery cues or maintenance, we can’t say something’s coming down, because that means it’s moving closer to the audience. (See previous paragraph about the hill.) Now what? So we say it’s coming in. And when it’s going back up to its usual hanging height, it’s going out.

So. Stage right is house left. Stage left is house right. Up is back. Down is front. In means down and out means up.

Please have pity on me if you see me standing still onstage during a stage change. I might be lost.

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