Sunday: Day 1 (Nov. 11)
Edmonton Opera production director Tim Yakimec arrives at my doorstep with a cargo van. Inside is the mini fridge I’d asked to have backstage, a printer and a kettle. The rest of the space is reserved to pick up the double bass at the airport. I’m along for the ride to the airport to become a driver, and bring back the Tapestry New Opera creative team. I don’t know any of them, so I made a sign to hold at the airport like in the movies. It says Edmonton Opera – Tapestry New Opera – SHELTER in big letters. Only one person noticed it. Sadly my life is not a Hollywood film.
Everyone from Tapestry has been working on this show for months; the writing and workshop process took years. As a local stage manager, I’m working just the shows and the week of tech to be backstage and be a local resource.
The van is rented, suitcases are found and we head back into town with the luggage, Ben, Beth and Aaron (video and lighting designers and their new baby!!), Sue (set designer) and Isolde (stage manager, my boss). I am a great tour guide (and a humble one as well) and take everyone to the grocery store to get set up for the week.
Isolde and I chat about what the week will look like over a tasty beverage. I’ve got a list of tasks for the morning!
Monday: Day 2 (Nov. 12)
A brisk walk to the hotel from my place, and I’m again the chauffeur, driving the gang to the theatre. At 8 a.m. It’s early.
Load-in has begun! The projection screen is being assembled and costumes are coming out of suitcases. Turns out that the suitcase is a prop too, not just a suitcase!
Then I’m driving back to the airport to find the orchestra, the cast, the director and maestro! We have two vans and Tim’s truck so luckily everyone and everything fits.
Isolde sent me a whole bunch of paperwork with my copy of the score the week before. Now we just need to make sure I know about the changes in blocking and the cuts to the score. That way I can make sure that all the props and quick-change pieces are in the right place at the right time backstage!
Onstage lights are being hung and focused. Sue is doing small repairs on costumes. Jesse (the bass player) comes to the theatre to make sure his bass arrived all in one piece. It has. It’s a great day.
Tuesday: Day 3 (Nov. 13)
Our props and costume areas are all set up. Lighting cues are being created. Connor, our supernumerary, and Michael, from Tapestry, are champions and are being the light-walkers. It’s not a glamorous job; it’s akin to being a stand-in in a movie. They stand onstage where the singers will be standing and the lights change in intensity around them until it looks perfect. This can take a while, and can be (for the light-walkers) pretty dull. But they hang in there! (And continue to do so for the next couple of days. Champs!)
I’m sitting by my score looking through it in the moments between needing to run to fetch something for someone, making tea and coffee, grabbing the prop/costume piece that’s needed onstage, relaying information from the carpentry shop to backstage and to the audience where the creative team is stationed. Today we are setting the prop house on fire. It takes a while to perfect the mechanism. The CSA fellow, Aidan (Tapestry production manager), and Jeff (EOA assistant technical director), are all working hard to make this piece of theatre magic work. Spoiler alert: The house burns at the end of the opera.
Then the cast arrives and it’s time to do the piano tech! How did that happen so quickly? I finally get to hear the music. All the pieces are coming together. I am trying to remember everyone’s name, what prop they need when and how all the scene changes we’ve worked on fit into the running time of the opera. Hectic, but fun!
Wednesday: Day 4 (Nov. 14)
The orchestra and the cast are all here, and it’s wonderful to hear what the opera will sound like with everyone. And it sounds great. There is one part of the show when I have a moment to groove out and dance backstage to the music. Yup, this is my real job!
We have a dress rehearsal tonight. There are a few invited guests, and they laugh at the jokes. It’s so good to have an audience. I am getting the feeling of the show too, but I’m still checking my notes all the time to make sure I don’t forget anything.
Thursday: Day 5 (Nov. 15)
It’s OPENING NIGHT!!!!
We have a short rehearsal in the afternoon to iron out the last couple of wrinkles. It’s the last time Keith, our director, and Wayne, the maestro, have to give notes before the big night.
Tonight the Edmonton Opera is treating us all to a small dinner at the theatre. What a wonderful surprise! I’m excited and nervous about the show. I haven’t written my opening night cards yet, so I hide backstage and write Toi Toi Toi to everyone!
But time ticks on, the patrons arrive and suddenly I’m giving the two minutes to show time call. And we’re off! And everything goes well. There are chuckles from the audience at all the right places, the singers are great, the music is soaring, the props are where they should be, the house burns just like it’s supposed to and then: applause! We did it!
I eat a lot of mini-pastries at the opening night reception to celebrate.
Friday: Day 6 (Nov. 16)
I get to sleep in today! What bliss. Plus, my job is to go to work and make the magic at the opera happen tonight. It’s pretty much the best. There are only a couple “day after opening” mishaps. I get to spend time with Maestro in the car as we race back to the hotel to get his score, and arrive back at the theatre to learn that a frappuccino leapt off the table onto Christine’s costume. Michelle, our wardrobe angel, saves the day! Everything is ready for the show, thankfully, and on it goes!
Saturday: Day 7 (Nov. 17)
It’s a two-show day today. Or as cast member Keith Klassen said to me, “Groundhog Day.” You know, like the movie where Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again? And it’s true, part way through the second show I’m looking at my notes thinking “Didn’t I already do that?” and I had done it: during the matinée.
There seems to be a gremlin in one of the moving lights. We will set it during the crew call before the show, and then during the show it has a mind of its own. I’m sure we’re the only ones who notice. We will fix it again tomorrow!
Sunday: Day 8 (Nov. 18)
It’s the last show! Isolde is already handing out taxi chits for some folks to leave right after the show. My mom and dad are coming to see it this afternoon and I’m excited to hear their reactions over birthday dinner tonight. Oh yeah, it’s my birthday — everyone sings to me backstage before the audience comes in. Opera “Happy Birthday” is the best! Wow.
The show runs smoothly and then the work lights are on, the crew has arrived and the screens are coming down, the orchestra is packing up, and I am emptying the coffee maker and packing up all my stage management supplies.
The crew will be working until everything gets cleared and restored to how the theatre was when we arrived. I’m not on that crew however, so once all the dressing rooms have been cleaned out, and my supplies are all packed up, Isolde, Tim and I pack the truck and I’m done.
I drive Isolde back to the hotel to say goodbye. I really can’t believe it’s only been a week. I’ve been so lucky to work with her — what an amazing stage manager and mentor. It’s been wonderful working with the whole company too! We say “until next time, whenever that is.”
And that’s it! The week of Shelter in Edmonton! Whew!
Anna Davidson was the assistant stage manager for the ATB Canadian Series production of "Shelter," at La Cité Francophone Nov. 15-18. She has previously worked with the Edmonton Opera on "The Mikado," "The Barber of Barrhead" and "Carmen." She has also worked as a stage manager for the Citadel Theatre, Northern Light Theatre, Shadow Theatre, Workshop West, Theatre Network, Concrete Theatre and L'Uni Theatre. She is a graduate of the theatre production program at MacEwan and the theatre performance program at Red Deer College.