A Round of Applause for “Backstage” Crew
Thousands saw Kristin Chenoweth on stage with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during the Christmas season in 2018. They saw conductors Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, organists Richard Elliott and Andrew Unsworth, the Bells on Temple Square, eight herald trumpeters, and over one hundered dancers.
But what about the performers who weren’t on stage, who work backstage, dress the stage, do the makeup and hair, direct the show from the production booth, and operate the cameras and the boom, capturing the concert on film? There are those who developed the concepts for the show, who managed the tickets, who skulked around the stage in black shirts so they wouldn’t be seen moving this and filming that; those who designed the set, choreographed the dancing, and sewed all the costumes, even the bugler’s banners. There is even a doctor at every performance. What we don’t see is the invisible cast of more than a hundred behind the scenes.
Staging a production like the annual three-day Tabernacle Choir Christmas concerts takes so much more than who we see and what we hear. It’s numbers and schedules, tryouts and rehearsals, writing and rewriting, choosing music, collaborating and coordinating, adjusting lights, building the set, staging, and checking the sound to pull off a show that is the number one concert in town for the holidays and the number one Christmas show every year on national PBS.
“The show is bigger than all of us,” Ed Payne, executive producer, explains. He’s been doing the Choir Christmas show in the Conference Center since 2000, and each one of the productions “has posed its own set of concerns, scheduling, and execution of our small army behind the scenes,” says Payne. His biggest concern is keeping the team rested and coordinated. “We face changes up to the end, and changes ripple down the schedule, impacting everyone. This crew—numbering more than 125—knows what to do and they do it.”
Chenoweth remarked that the show was as good, as well managed, and as synchronized behind the scenes as any on Broadway. That’s high praise for a crew composed of experts as well as a number of volunteers.
There is no last-minute scramble for this crew. Production begins in the summer as the concept is developed by music director Mack Wilberg and creative consultant David Warner. Payne ordered 48 Christmas trees in June. “We try to maximize their vision with lights, set design, sound, costuming. There are so many moving parts,” Payne says. “Every year we are breaking new ground.”
Names not on the program but imprinted as the show unrolls include Scott Eckern (associate producer), Rob Morton (associate director), Heidi Casson (production manager), Robert Breitenbeker (production stage manager), Sean McFarland (engineer), Mike McBride (lighting director), Jason Graham (audio), Jim Case (set design), Bob Foote (electronic boxes), Crystal Wooton (stage decoration), Jeff Favero (Choir stage manager), and Wolfgang Zeisler (Teleprompter). And that is just the beginning of those who don’t take a bow on stage.
Payne adds, “The real joy is not in their preparation; it’s when they too get to perform as they execute their craft during the production.”