September 4, 2017
For the past few months, I’ve been fortunate to take a peek at what goes on “Behind the Curtain” at Syracuse Stage. I hope you’ve learned a bit more about all the elements that go into each one of our shows — from costumes, props and set design to show selection, management and volunteer training. As the curtain closes on my summer internship, there’s one more department I want to highlight.
Like it or not, putting on a production at Syracuse Stage costs money. There’s no getting around it. Ticket prices don’t cover the costs of all of the elements that go into the high caliber theatre offered in our community. That’s where the development department comes in. However, most people hear the word “development” and immediately think of dollar and cents, but Tina Morgan, director of development, and Meggan Madden, development assistant, understand that it’s not just about raising money.
Both Morgan and Madden were fans of theatre long before joining Syracuse Stage. The opportunity to work in development was an appealing choice for both of them. Morgan has been with Syracuse Stage for two years, while Madden joined three years ago. Of course, both knew part of their jobs required fundraising, but they also knew this was an opportunity for much more.
Meggan Madden (L) and Tina Morgan (R) in the Development Office at Syracuse Stage.
The development department is responsible for bringing in over $1 million annually, much of which comes from the support of individuals, corporations, foundations and government agencies. This helps to keep tickets affordable, pay actors and artists well, and have high quality productions year-after-year, according to Morgan.
However, development at Syracuse Stage is also about creating relationships with patrons and reaching out so members of the community see the true value of the organization. To that end, Morgan and Madden go to great lengths to plan opening night dinners, season “sneak peek” parties, and other unique events to get to know Syracuse Stage’s patrons. As development professionals, both Morgan and Madden understand that forming relationships with the Central New York community is what it really takes to increase ticket sales, establish partnerships and reap the benefits of those outside of the immediate Syracuse Stage family.
“It’s about putting the puzzle together and getting the community involved,” said Madden.
For example, this season’s production of Next to Normal tells the story of a family facing mental illness, so the development department is eager to partner with local organizations with expertize in this field. In addition, the holiday production of The Wizard of Oz will feature a sensory-friendly performance that accommodates those with certain sensitivities to things like bright lights or loud noises. Widening the potential audience to those who might otherwise shy away from a typical theatrical performance is exactly the kind of community building Madden and Morgan seek.
“Theatre challenges our thinking and promotes discussion. Working with the community around Syracuse Stage can only enhance that,” said Morgan.
Each department at Syracuse Stage is just as essential as the next in maintaining high quality theatre that inspires the individuals who walk through the doors. From the front of the house to the decisions made in the offices upstairs, it’s the relationships inside the walls of the theatre and within the Central New York community that make Syracuse Stage so remarkable. In the world of theatre, there are plenty of things that go unnoticed to the average audience member, but often what goes on behind the curtain is what makes each show that much more extraordinary.
AUGUST 28, 2017
One of the recurring lessons I have learned going behind the curtain is that the audience only witnesses a fraction of what it takes to produce a show. A season of shows gets selected, costumes and props are collected, and the final instructions for each set piece are perfected. In the machine of theatre, it takes a lot of moving parts for an audience to enjoy an amazing performance. It takes knowledge, cooperation, and the ability to juggle many projects at once.
If you want to learn how to multi-task like a master, it’s best to look to director of production operations Don Buschmann and production stage manager Stuart Plymesser for advice. While their job descriptions aren’t exactly the same, their organization and communication skills and desire to maintain the initial artistic vision of a show allow them to successfully “manage the creative chaos” of any production.
For Buschmann, the work begins about one year prior to opening night, just as the upcoming season gets finalized. As the director of production operations, he oversees almost every department, from props and costumes to scenery and paint to lighting and sound.
“He makes sure the show doesn’t explode,” joked Plymesser. According to Buschmann himself, it’s all about putting a show on stage on time while respecting the budget and artistic vision. It’s making sure each department is working as efficiently as possible while cooperating with others.
Plymesser gets involved later than Buschmann, but it’s just as important in making sure each show runs smoothly. As rehearsals begin, Plymesser functions as almost “the conductor of the orchestra.” He schedules rehearsals, takes attendance of each actor, hires the crew, and makes sure each prop and costume piece is in its proper place. During an actual performance, Plymesser is literally working behind the curtain, calling out each lighting change and sound cue while making sure props, actors, and set pieces are moving at the exact moment needed.
It’s a whirlwind of responsibilities for Buschmann and Plymesser, and sometimes, challenges present themselves. It could be as technical as reconsidering the number of costumes for the upcoming holiday production of The Wizard of Oz. It could be as personal as rescheduling rehearsals because an actor is sick or somebody’s injured.
“One of the greatest challenges is that you’re always on call,” explained Plymesser. In the world of live theatre, anything can happen, and Buschmann and Plymesser are always on their toes.
Buschmann relies on Plymesser to make sure the work each department puts out is being executed on stage. Plymesser relies on Buschmann to ensure that the director’s vision is maintained. Together they make sure that each piece of the production puzzle can fit seamlessly.
While their work behind the curtain may go unseen by patrons filling the theatre each night, Buschmann and Plymesser’s passion makes the chaos of overseeing and organizing a production easier.
“I like to refer to the corner of Irving Ave. and East Genesee Street as the Magic Kingdom,” said Buschmann. It’s the magic of each production element arriving on time and in budget. It’s the magic of quickly overcoming a challenge at rehearsal. It’s the magic we see as audiences light up watching an actor strut across the stage. There’s magic behind every curtain at Syracuse Stage, and it’s the work of Buschmann and Plymesser that keep this magic from turning into mayhem.
The Cast and Crew of Deathtrap Stuart Plymesser is in the first row, third from the right in the brown blazer.
AUGUST 21, 2017
AUGUST 14, 2017
AUGUST 8, 2017
JULY 31, 2017
JULY 24, 2017
“How wide is the hoop skirt going to be?” You might think this question comes from the costume department, but at Syracuse Stage, it’s actually asked by technical director Randy Steffen.
JULY 17, 2017
Joyce Cohen and James Lloyd Reynolds in 'Deathtrap' at Syracuse Stage. Photo by Michael Davis.So ask yourself again, “Can anybody imagine doing Hamlet without the skull?” During your next visit to Syracuse Stage, take a minute to notice just how props elevate a story. You might find yourself answering that question, “No, you can’t.”