Behind the Curtains

To many people, home is a place or group of people they feel comfortable around. In some cases, that idea of home is a job or workplace. I may not have much experience with an official paying job yet, but I have done a lot of volunteer work. In middle school and high school, I volunteered backstage for a community children's theater called Pied Piper Theatre, which is centered in Manassas. Over five years and seven musicals, I have worked many positions in the technical area. In that time, the members of the cast and crew have become a second family to me.

My first show working for Pied Piper Theatre was Honk!, which is a musical adaptation of "The Ugly Duckling." At that point, I had no experience with backstage work, so the stage manager assigned me the job of an assistant to the parents that oversaw the prop table. Every Pied Piper musical runs for four shows on two consecutive weekends: two Saturday evening performances and two Sunday matinee performances. With Honk!, I was unable to gain much experience backstage, since I had been sick the second weekend. The cast and crew had started to become like family to me during the final week of practices before opening night, so when I was out sick, my real family, who was also involved with the show, passed on the message that I had been missed.

Another reason why the cast of Honk! was like family is because one of the cast members, Brandon, was like the funny brother (and in the stage manager's case, he really was her brother). During the after-party at IHOP after the first performance, I told Brandon that the syrup bottle that was labeled "hot syrup" wasn't actually hot, it was sort of lukewarm. He then took the syrup bottle, put it up to his face for a few seconds, and said "Nope! It's not hot!"

For the next two musicals I volunteered for, Narnia and Sleepy Hollow, I primarily helped with scene changes. The people backstage were assigned certain props and set pieces to place onstage during the set changes between scenes. The scene changes had to be both quick and efficient, so the audience would keep from getting bored during the scene changes, and so the actors could have the correct scenes and props to work with when they needed to. Again, Brandon was the funny brother, goofing off between scenes and during the cast parties.

For the next two spring shows, Oliver!, based on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, and Peter Pan, I was in charge of operating the front curtain. The actors and stage crew were like family for me. My now-12-year-old friend, Neil, was like the cute little brother in Oliver! During the intermission of one of the performances, the musical director for these two shows, Mrs. Boyles, said she missed one of the cues to conduct the orchestra because she was staring up at him onstage from down in the orchestra pit, thinking, "Oh, my gosh! It's Neil! He's so cute!" In Peter Pan, the musical director's son, Michael, took over the job of being the funny brother.

One of my favorite jobs was being a spotlight operator for my final two musicals, Geppetto and Son and Beauty and the Beast, during the "Disney" season of my senior year of high school. The main job of the spotlight operators is to follow a specific actor with the light when the stage manager gives the specific cue to do so. In both shows, one of my closest friends, Jonathan "Jonny Quest" Cuesta, had one of the title roles. Jonny Quest was the relative everyone loved. He was really funny, and he worked well with the younger cast members. He was also well-loved by the audience during the autograph/meet-and-greet sessions at the end of every performance.

Working for Pied Piper Theatre in general was like family in a sometimes negative way. In some ways, when casting the musicals, the directors and producers were like parents that had a favorite child. It almost always seemed that the same actors and actresses were cast in the musicals, and, more specifically, in the roles with the most lines and musical numbers.

In Beauty and the Beast, Natalie, the assistant to the lighting designer, and I both agreed that the head lighting designer, Mr. Barker, was like the relative nobody likes. The head lighting designer decides where the lights are positioned, what sort of color lights will be used in each scene, and when each light cue will be. Natalie and I both disliked the lighting designer because he was inefficient in his work. He changed the way the lighting was set up and operated, as opposed to the way Natalie was used to running the lights in the school we had performed the show in. It also took him most of the final week of rehearsals before opening night to figure out what he wanted for lighting cues and positions. This was frustrating for everyone because the lighting designers Pied Piper normally hire had everything set up by the time the cast was ready to practice onstage during the second half of the final practice week. It was extremely frustrating for me because I was still getting many new spotlight cues during performances, many of which the stage manager had no idea about. It was so frustrating that I had several nervous breakdowns when getting conflicting information.