Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year Ends, But What's Next?

This article, by Erik Pipenberg, appeared on the New York Times website under the title "Backstage Veterans, Taking a Breath After Long Runs".

No show runs forever, not even “Cats.”
When a long-running musical closes, the actors take a final bow. But backstage workers have to dismantle the sets, pack up costumes and wigs for touring productions, and unlearn light cues and cast members’ schedules.
So it will be when “The Addams Family” and “Billy Elliot” finish their Broadway runs, which, while not long by “Cats” standards (18 years) — or the 23-years-and-still-running “Phantom of the Opera” — have meant steady paychecks for stagehands, dressers, hair and makeup artists and many others who work behind the scenes.
“The Addams Family” closes on Saturday after 22 months at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. “Billy Elliot,” the winner of 10 Tony Awards in 2009, closes at the Imperial Theater on Jan. 8. Both are shutting down after slow box office sales in recent months, but will live on in touring productions.
Among the actors who have stayed with “The Addams Family” since the beginning are Jackie Hoffman, who began playing Grandma in the show’s pre-Broadway run in Chicago. “Billy Elliot,” by contrast, has seen boys steadily cycle in and out of the title role as their bodies grew and their voices dropped.
“Saying goodbye to people is a constant,” said Bonnie Becker, the show’s production stage manager.
“There will be lots of tears,” she added. “The kids are already sad and counting down how many shows they have left.”
Following are excerpts from interviews with Ms. Becker and three other backstage crew members from “Billy Elliot” and “The Addams Family” who will have greased their shows’ wheels on Broadway from the first curtain until the last.
Production stage manager, “Billy Elliot”
WHAT SHE DOES “It’s like being an air traffic controller. I tell everybody else what to do. I figure out how to call the show and teach other people how to do it.” But she is also part therapist, part personal assistant and equal parts good cop-bad cop: “I have around 50 numbers in my phone of actors from ‘Billy Elliot.’ They could call me at any moment of the day or night to tell me any number of things — they’re sick, pregnant, getting married, their parents are ill, someone has died, their cat has to go to the vet — all by way of saying they will or won’t be coming to work.”
REGRETS None. “Look, eventually a show’s going to close no matter how fantastic it is,” she said. “In our three-year run we’ve had 16 boys play Billy. They grow up and they have to leave. We have been through the sadness of losing the stars of the show 12 times, since we have four boys left.”
WHAT’S NEXT “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” starring Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara, which follows “Billy Elliot” into the Imperial. Previews start in March. But before that, her plans call for some quiet time. “I honestly hope to sleep a lot and not have my phone ring. Maybe I’ll just turn my phone off.”
Hair and makeup supervisor, “The Addams Family”
JOINED THE SHOW August 2008 (He worked on the Chicago run.)
WHAT HE DOES Maintains the wigs and oversees makeup; helps actors learn to do their own makeup.
HOW HE KEEPS IT FRESH “It’s always good to have a show that has challenges. You get bored easily and read far too many books. This show doesn’t allow for that.”
Ms. Hoffman’s Grandma, for example, wears “about 20 or 30 different items” to make her look 100. “There are different shades of base, plus different contours, false eyebrows, prosthetic moles.”
WHAT’S NEXT No job lined up yet. It’s too soon for new Broadway shows to be thinking about hair and makeup, he said. “Once they have the cast, then they worry about clothes and makeup. Hair is like the last thing they think about.”
Wardrobe supervisor, “Billy Elliot”
WHAT SHE DOES Repairs, cleans and refits costumes; hires dressers; coordinates and assists with quick changes.
BENEFITS OF A LONG RUN Vacation planning. “Being able to say, ‘I’m in a strong show, and maybe if we want to go to Texas for the summer, we can plan on that’ is great. If you don’t know if a show is going to have long legs, it’s hard to make plans.”
REGRETS Missing a performance her two children (now 7 and 9) gave at summer camp during her first month with the show. (She later watched it on tape.) “I tried not to take a lot of time off at the beginning. But as it ran longer, if I needed to miss a show because it’s back-to-school night, I could do it because the show had become a well-oiled machine.”
WHAT’S NEXT Without a signed contract, Ms. Purcell was reluctant to say, other than that she “almost” had “something set” for a Broadway show.
Resident music director and conductor, “Billy Elliot”
WHAT HE DOES Conducts the show, rehearses the cast, vets new musicians.
WHY IT’S A DREAM OPPORTUNITY “I grew up on a farm in central Illinois, and I knew that’s not where my dreams lie. Much like Billy, I put all my energy into music, which led me to something I’m enjoying.”
UNEXPECTED MOMENT Proximity to other Broadway shows can have surprising results. “The other night we had microphones that went live from ‘Porgy and Bess’ right in the middle of our show.”
WHAT’S NEXT Conducting “Nice Work if You Can Get It.” Until then, Mr. Gough says, “I have a few weeks to exhale.”

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