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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

September 19, 2008

What do the Beijing Olympics have in common with West Side Story? By Prop Master Michael Christensen

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 3:25 pm

West Side Story has a lot in common with the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympics in Beijing.  While watching the performance, after one particularly impressive section of movement where a series of about a hundred boxes told a beautiful story, the announcers explained that all the delicate movement of the boxes was done by hand or with manpower.  I remember sitting there before hearing his explanation and trying to figure out if they had used computers or perhaps hydraulic lifts to get that precise a movement.  What they did use was people power and lots of practice to get it right and that is exactly the same resources that we use to have beautiful, and quick transitions from one scene to the next in our production of West Side Story.  During the 2 acts of the play we visit ten different locations from the interior of the neighborhood drug store to the decorated gymnasium dance. 

We don’t have nearly as many people on our backstage crew as they had moving those boxes in the birds nest but our crew has spent many hours practicing and fine tuning their movements to be able to complete the wonderful transitions from one location to the next in as little as 10 seconds.   Our crew is made up of high school students who have been trained in our TheatreWings Apprentice program.  Mark Davis is a new TheatreWings apprentice but he is doing a great job as Production Assistant arriving at the theatre 90 mins before the show begins so he can check every prop and set piece to make sure it in the right place and ready for the production.  Mark also plays “A-rab” in the show.  Another pair of new students to the program, Madison Beane and Savannah Ferguson, can be found each day sweeping all the platforms onstage and off to keep it nice and clean for the very physical production numbers.  Everett Pompeii joins the team by checking every prop and replacing any broken or missing items needed for the show.  Jake Pensmith is learning new skills on this show as the sound assistant where he has to prepare and test every microphone each night and get them ready for the actors.  Hayley Daderko rounds out the High school students working on West Side Story as a dresser where she assists the actors with those very fast costume changes.  Along with a few adult crew members also helping out, these kids are responsible for making sure the show runs smoothly and consistently.    And very much like the Olympic ceremonies, they leave you wondering “How did they do that?”

west-side-crew-003.jpg 

(West Side Story Crew) 

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