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Around The Arts

August 8, 2011

The folks behind the scenes make arts productions go smoothly

On opening night of "Annie Get Your Gun" at The Glimmerglass Festival, people left the Alice Busch Opera Theater with toothy grins, humming "There's No Business Like Show Business."

It's true. There is no business like show business. It is a labor of love for many, whether in the theater, opera or museum. The amount of time, energy and material that goes toward the product seen by audiences can be astounding.

The production of "Annie Get Your Gun" saw the beginning stages of construction in late October and November, continuing in late May.

Daily six-hour rehearsals began a few weeks later, resulting in the toe-tapping, musical comedy that is leaving full theaters smiling. The audience likely doesn't think about all the work that went into building the production, or even all of the labor going on behind the scenes to create a seamless experience for the viewers. And that's the entire point.

The Glimmerglass Festival audio/video coordinator often says on backstage tours, "If you see us, then something has gone wrong."

When everything goes as planned in a performance, the audience doesn't know the backstage crews exist.

This is the case for most arts presentations. The producer wants the art to speak for itself.

The Fenimore Art Museum closes its doors to the public in the winter, but the staff is working behind the closed doors to meticulously prepare the next season's exhibits. Once the doors close in the winter, items from the displays have to be returned to lenders or put back in storage vaults, and Fenimore's staff begins shuffling walls, laying out galleries, painting and designing new graphics for the exhibits. This doesn't even take into account the amount of time and organization it takes to actually obtain all the pieces that will be on display on a certain exhibit.

Once exhibits or performances are up and running, there are constant tweaks _ brushing up on choreography or timing, checking and adjusting lighting _ either in the theater or on an exhibit. According to a Fenimore Art Museum blog post, the organization has about 100 lights on the first floor of the museum alone.

Glimmerglass has hundreds of lights hanging in the theater for the four productions it presents every summer, most of which, similar to a museum's lights, are adjusted or checked before each performance.

In discussing this labor of love with my colleague the other day, she pointed out that many of the crew members who work backstage of the production never get to see the show _ or the result of all their hard work.

The moving walls, the pieces of scenery that fly in and out, all the facets that come together to make a theatrical production a magical experience _ the backstage crews never see it from an audience's perspective.

And yet, they are dedicated to this craft and creating this piece of art.

This type of dedication can be seen in every aspect of arts organizations. Most nonprofit arts organizations would be nowhere without volunteers. The Glimmerglass Festival volunteers contribute almost 3,500 hours of service each year. Museums have volunteer docents, who are trained facilitators that serve as liaisons between museum exhibitions and the public.

It can take one to hundreds of people to organize a show _ whether it is theater, dance or an exhibit.

While it takes the dedication of everyone behind the scenes to produce the art, it means nothing without the dedication of the audience.

One thing we all have in common is our appreciation for a good show, and we can all agree, "There is no business like show business."

Brittany Lesavoy is secretary of ArtsOtsego, the alliance of Otsego County arts organizations, and director of public relations for The Glimmerglass Festival in Springfield Center. Column ideas may be sent to aroundthearts@gmail.com. 'Around The Arts' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/aroundthearts.

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