MALLORY DUNCAN | Asst. Arts, Etc. Editor
When the curtains go up at Clowes Memorial Hall, any number of performances could be on the stage. From Butler University events to outside productions, that stage has seen it all. But the shows that have always intrigued me are the Broadway shows.
Last week, The Collegian had the opportunity to go backstage on one of these shows, “Memphis,” and discover what has to happen before that big red curtain can go up.
Passing by wigs and sparkly costumes and doors with names on them, I was drawn in by the magic of it all. I had done theatre in high school, but this was a completely different world.
The event manager at Clowes guided me backstage and into the green room, a place where actors and people from the show can gather. Don’t ask me how to get back there—I went in doors and down staircases I didn’t even know existed.
While I waited for the tour manager to escort me around and tell me about the inner workings of “Memphis,” I was reminded of how much of an imposter I was. People in the crew and cast would walk by and smile, but a hidden question of “Who are you?” remained on their faces.
If there is one thing I learned about being backstage, it is that these traveling companies are not a bunch of people just doing their jobs—they are tight-knit families with established routines.
Speaking of routine, the crew of “Memphis” was flawless. Tour manager Colin Byrne said the crew comes a day early from its previous location. The crew usually drives all night to get to the new location. When it arrived at Clowes, unloading the accompanying two semi trucks started at 8 a.m. and didn’t stop until 4:30 p.m., when the crew had a dinner break and got ready for the show which started at 7:30 p.m.
And what a job it was. The set for “Memphis” was incredible. A wrought iron staircase, a radio booth and an old fashioned TV camera were some of the things that stood out.
The company also brings most of its own cords, which are run from the stage to the sound board. The light controller even has an app on his iPhone that lets him do light checks before shows.
As I was escorted backstage, Byrne told me all about the process of working on a show that tours. The show itself could not run without some outside support. At every venue, the show is provided with community members who help with costumes and lights. The spotlight job is fairly straightforward, but handling the costumes are a different story.
There are many costume changes in “Memphis.” The company set up the costumes right behind the stage, so the actors don’t have to go very far for quick changes between scenes.
Each actor is given a number so the outside help can use those instead of names, making it easier for the volunteers to remember. Byrne said, for longer runs, the volunteers get to know the names of the actors they are assigned to and don’t use the numbers.
As for the actors, they never have a full rehearsal in each new stage space. The only amount of rehearsing they have is an hour before the show.
The dance captain runs a fight and dance call. This is when the actors can practice certain fight and dance sequences to get used to the new space. But they don’t have to worry about the floor, because the company brings that in as well.
As I left, I encountered patrons waiting to go into the show. I hid my smile as I walked out because, although I hadn’t yet experienced the show, I had experienced all the secrets behind it.