While at work one day last week, I received an email from my friend Jess, the arts and culture editor at OutWords magazine. She asked me if I would be interested in reporting on the set up of the popular musical Wicked. I was so excited; I jumped at the opportunity. I was able to chat with some industry professionals, talk to some people that work on the show, and work on my photography skills.
At the time I wasn’t able to go to the show (I got tickets afterward), so I thought, ‘Well, behind the scenes is better than nothing.’ It was pretty eye-opening to see the amount of work that goes into a show of that scale. This is the article I wrote for the magazine, and you can check it out on their website here. (NOTE: I did get the chance to go to the show and I cried. I also wrote a review, which I will post shortly).
How to be Wicked
A behind-the-scenes look at setting up the Tony award winning show
Flying monkeys, Glenda the Good Witch’s travelling bubble and the giant Time Dragon that hangs overhead make the Land of Oz quite a magical place. Then there is the process of transforming venue after venue into the Land of Oz, which seems quite magical in itself.
Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, Broadway’s highest grossing show for nine consecutive years, will be back in Winnipeg playing at the Centennial Concert Hall from August 20 to 30. The last time the show was in town was in 2011, when it broke box-office records and sold out in record time.
“We’re happy to be back in Winnipeg,” said Bridget Stegall, associate company manager. “We look forward to amazing the Winnipeg audiences.”
But before musical lovers can be amazed, an experienced team must assemble and set up backdrops and stage props, convertingan ordinary stage into the mystical setting of Wicked.
The travelling company comes equipped with 35 crew members who are in charge of electrical, sound, carpentry, wardrobe, hair and make-up—and that is not including the musicians or actors. Along with the travelling team, the company hires approximately 100 local men to help unload and set up the 11 semi trucks full of equipment. There is a lot to roll out—just to give you an idea, the company uses about four to five miles of cable per show.
“It takes about two days to set everything up. It only takes five hours to load everything out because our guys have worked on this tour for such a long time they have it down to a science,” said Stegall.
The Centennial Concert Hall is a loud place during set up, until elegant crowds takes over in the evening. Hammers are clanking, men are climbing up and down ladders attaching cords, and workers are using measuring tapes to ensure everything is just right. And everything must be just right because assembling the stage is like putting together a puzzle. Certain things must be set up first before the next pieces can go in and so forth. Backdrops are the first to be set up. Once in place, the heavy pieces get sent above the stage with a loud rumble, staying there until they’re needed in the show. Once everything is up in the air, the crew can start laying down the deck.
Between the crew’s communication skills and their efficiency, it’s evident they have done this many times before. Even their coffee breaks are timed out perfectly; like clockwork, all crew members exit simultaneously, leaving the stage deserted and quiet for fifteen minutes until it’s time to get back to work.
After two days of set up and a sound check, the show is ready for its Winnipeg audience. According to Stegall, the breathtaking costumes and the multi-million dollar sets are the same as those we would see on Broadway.
“You’re not getting a lesser or smaller version of the show because we’re here in Winnipeg. We bring the show with us,” Stegall said.
For a travelling show of this magnitude, it’s not an easy task recreating the Land of Oz (fun fact: the electrical, sound and automation departments use enough power to supply approximately 18 houses). But many hands make light work when recreating the show that was declared “the best musical of the decade” by Entertainment Weekly. The show must go on, but first, the stage is set.