Before the orchestra pulls out their sheet music and the actors start putting on their makeup, a very different kind of pre-show routine is taking place behind the curtain at Umble Center: the stage crew presets props and costumes, tests lighting and sound and otherwise prepares for a run of “Into the Woods.”Sarah Bailey, a junior theater major and stage manager for “Into the Woods,” said her job “is really to make sure the ship is running smoothly.”
Specifically, Bailey takes notes on blocking, organizes schedules, oversees the other crew members and calls cues from the booth during the show.
“I have my script with all of the cues written in and all of the warnings and standbys that go before it,” she said. “I’m the one saying, ‘okay, this cue number and this sound cue: go!’”
“‘Into the Woods’ is unique in that we have rail operators,” she noted. “We have a fly system and we have houses, screens and these pieces of wood that are the trees that fly in.”
During a show, Bailey signals to the stagehands the exact moment when they need to start moving these elements, which involves maneuvering a complex system of ropes, pulleys and counterweights.
Jacob Claassen, tech director of Umble and sound designer for “Into the Woods,” said, “Those are the elements that are challenging during a run of a show because of safety [and timing].”
This process requires hours of planning and rehearsal to get just right for opening night.
“I’ve actually been doing a time log of how much I’ve been working on stuff,” Bailey said. “Right now I’m at about 180 hours.”
“It’s been very complicated,” she continued, “but this is also what I want to do for a living, so it’s been a really fun challenge to take on.”
“There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes,” Claassen said. “I would say I would prefer to have an infinite amount of time.”
To help with production, GC hired an out of house scenic designer for “Into the Woods,” Jonathan Sabo, a former theater educator who is now a freelance scenic and lighting designer.
“It was a blessing,” Claassen said. “He not only came into our shop [and] melded well with the team, but also taught us things that were really valuable … He made building the set very, very easy. He had all the measurements laid out — we were just cutting two by fours and singing songs in the scene shop.”
Another unique part of the tech process for “Into the Woods” was the debut of a new system of LED lights for the cyclorama (the back wall of the stage), which Joseph Mounsithiraj, a sophomore art major and lighting designer for the show, had the task of implementing.
“I think it made it easier in terms of planning because they’re LED lights,” he said, “so I can program them to do whatever colors I want … the challenge is figuring out how to effectively do that.”
“The rest of the system,” Mounsithiraj said, “is just single source light that can only be one color. I kind of worked around that with a gel swap at intermission, changing out all the colors, and I think the [assistant stage managers] hate me for that.”
“The cyc lights are so much more efficient than the old cyc lights,” he continued. “The old cyc lights … weighed about 50 pounds and were just a huge power draw — 1600 watts per fixture, something like that.”
The new lights are smaller, lighter and only draw 30 watts of power per light.
When asked what the biggest challenge of the show was, he said, “Just the sheer size of it. It has over 1200 lighting cues … [last year’s musical] had like 700, and we thought that was a big show.”
Bailey singled out a specific moment in the show as her biggest challenge: a moment in Act Two she calls the “seven steps sequence.”
“The rail operators are alternating picking up and putting down two lines,” she said, “we have sound cues that happen at different points, we have a tree that falls onstage… It’s a lot of people having to be coordinated at once.”
“It is a really, really long and massive show that craves a lot of attention put into the small details,” Claassen said. “There’s not a [design] team in the show that I’m not proud of in some way.”
“Into the Woods” closes out its run this weekend with a 7:30 p.m. performance on Friday and a 2:30 p.m. performance on Sunday. Tickets are free for students and faculty.