From the empty seats of the Emmaus High School auditorium during a Thursday afternoon rehearsal, it appears the actors know their lines and the dancers are confident in their steps. The upcoming production of "Phantom of the Opera" is less than two weeks away. However, what’s happening backstage is far from finished.
The build crew, consisting of approximately 11 students, is anxiously working to piece together the final set for opening night. Despite having been backstage up to six days each week since November, sometimes until 11pm, there is still plenty to do.
Bob Ross, a sophomore at EHS and a critical member of the “Phantom” build crew, says this is his “life."
“We spend a lot of time back here. I miss it when it’s over. The people I’ve become closest with are the people on build crew. They’re practically my family,” Ross affirmed.
The build crew is an essential element to a production such as “Phantom." Without the set pieces, there would be no visual background for the actors to work with. Contrary to what many may assume, there are more female than male members on the build crew.
Technical director Chris Kollar has labored long and hard alongside “Phantom” director, Jill Kuebler since last summer. Together, they decided which direction the show would go in, more figuratively or more literally. Kollar also made the determination of what he needed technically due to space limitations, while Kuebler determined what she needed dramatically. They are a team.
One thing that is very clear is that the students are ultimately in charge of this production.
“The kids are the ones who run the show,” stated Kollar. “I always ask them to keep me in the loop!” he added with a laugh.
Hours and hours of time, energy, blood, sweat and tears have gone into the design and construction of what is sure to be one of the most impressive sets Emmaus High School has yet to see.
“Honestly, I’d say we do this for the love of doing it. The fact that we do 100% of the stuff in house is huge. We own the success, we own the mistakes,” commented Kollar when discussing the option of renting a set versus making it with their own hands. The students even make many of the props.
Kelsey Cox, prop mistress and a sophomore at EHS said the props crew feels they are on schedule and just about ready for the opening night.
Props crew, made up of 10 students, is responsible for obtaining the necessary items that will be used throughout the scenes of the musical. These are often smaller items such as flowers, cups, spears, chairs, and tables just to name a few. With less than two weeks before the curtains open, Cox said they’re still in need of several items including a long straight whistle and a black leather folder similar to the one used in the original “Phantom” movie.
The consensus among most of the crews is that stress is a motivator.
“The biggest, toughest thing is that we’re trying to build a set, and there’s a play going on over there. The truth is we’ll be doing stuff up until the last minute.” Kollar said.
Most of the larger set pieces are still in need of paint, but they have help from the run crew, which adds some manpower. Cast members also help out when possible. Painting can only be done when the cast is off stage, usually after 7pm each night of the week. This means students often stay to work well into the night. Despite these long hours, homework is still a priority and is often done back stage during their “off-time."
The run crew consists of approximately 30 students and is critical to the major set changes. These are the students who are often dressed in black and are responsible for transporting the large set pieces off and on stage in between scenes. Precision and timing are everything, especially when it comes to the light and sound.
At this point in the production, five members of the build crew focus their efforts on lighting and sound, also known as the lighting/technical crew. Junior Chris Oberle, head of the lighting crew, along with several others, has been hard at work for months in preparation for the opening night.
Senior Ricky Moyer, the stage manager, is the backbone of this production. He’s had quite a bit of experience through his middle and high school years and it shows. Despite not having any formal training in the technical side of the production, Moyer clearly knows his stuff. He says he learned “by reading the manual." Now he’s hoping to pass his experience and knowledge down to his underclassmen.
“Every year we always have a really good group of kids. We’re going to put on an amazing show. We all get along very well. It’s a lot of time and stress, but I’m going to miss everyone who was involved.”
Over 155 dimmers controlling 175 lights have been staged and programmed as cues into a computer system, which will allow the lighting crew to change light effects with a simple push of a button. By opening night, approximately 400 cues will be programmed into the computer. The process is intricate and extraordinary.
In addition to the stage lights, 24 cast members’ microphones are managed from the lighting and sound booth. Two students, junior Sarah Modo, head of sound, and her assistant, Asmita Joshi, handle this element manually.
According to Kollar, these two students have the most technically difficult job during the show. Lighting errors can go unnoticed, but if there’s a problem with a microphone, the audience is sure to hear it.
Mike Harm, assistant technical director, noted that, “Very few things are 100 percent done at this point, so we’re 75 percent done with most things. Everything’s got to come together, which is usually what happens in the last week.”
When referring to the long hours to which the crews have committed, Kollar joked, “It’s bad when you get to know all three shifts of the custodians. I mean they’re all nice, but …”
He said it’s especially difficult to know that he and the other adult contributors are sacrificing family time. “Without question, I definitely miss my time with my wife and kids during the show.”
The unfortunate part of being a member of the crew is that when they do their job, no one knows they’re there.
One of Kollar’s past students made ninja shirts for the crew last year. The analogy was “Crew members are like ninjas; you have to be everywhere, but in the shadows. No one can see you, no one can hear you, but in the end, we’re pretty important. “
As was suspected, “Phantom” has already sold out with no tickets available. Stay tuned to Patch for a complete photo gallery of the performance if you weren’t able to obtain tickets to the show.
Next week: An in-depth look at the costumes, make-up, dancing and more.