A Peek Behind the Curtain

If you’ve ever been downtown around the Morris Performing Arts Center, you’ve probably seen the marquee lit up and the bustle of excitement just before a show is about to begin. However, putting on a show at the Morris is much more than setting up a few speakers. 

Behind-the-scenes you’ll find Kyle Miller, Production Manager at the Morris Performing Arts Center, along with 30 other union workers hustling to get a show loaded in. Broadway shows have been known to bring in more than a dozen semi-truck trailers filled with elaborate costuming, instruments and stage props. Depending on the show, some setups can last anywhere from one full day to seven days prior to opening night.  

In 2018, Phantom of the Opera arrived nearly a week before the first show. Miller said production was one of the most unique things he’s ever worked with. “Additional rigging points were added above the ceiling to accommodate the large chandelier in the production,” he said. “It was a fun process to watch. Phantom is so big, adjustments were made to fit the scenery and staging.” 

Backstage is where all the magic happens and where history has roamed the halls. The Morris has seen their fair share of celebrities who have used one of the nine dressing rooms including Jerry Seinfeld, Stevie Wonder, Steve Martin and Aerosmith. Catering is brought backstage for each show and has specific instructions to follow. No matter how strange, catering makes sure each show passing through has each request met. 

“Each backstage event is unique, and they all have specific requests from un-bruised bananas, setting up a live aquarium of goldfish, or picking out green M&M’s.  We enjoy the challenge and each different artist’s personalities and stories,” said Richelle Gingerich, Director of Catering & Ballroom Events for the Morris. 

Productions who travel with child actors often need a location for school while they are in residence. Disney’s The Lion King needs a dedicated location for school each day before young Simba and Nala take the stage. During their 3-week run in March, production will travel with tutors and setup a base in the Palais Ballroom.  

If you consider how long some of these productions are on the road, one might wonder how some of the basic needs are met. How is laundry cleaned? What about prescriptions? The Morris has a dedicated laundry room available for touring productions to utilize and are provided a local runner to assist with pharmacy runs, clothing stores, salon visits, etc. Some musicians and comedians don’t travel with clothing luggage to be laundered. They purchase clothing in every city visited and discard or donate items after use.  

What is the most common item listed in a tour contract? Socks! Socks of every, shape, size, style, and color. Have you ever lost a sock at home? Imagine traveling on a tour bus for months around the United States and trying to keep track of the pairs! For many, it’s easier to buy new ones. 

From the first point of contact to opening nightplanning a show can take up to two years. Promoters start by checking availability dates at the venue and discuss expenses

“Tours start by looking at dates and planning a travel route, then begin contract negotiations,” said Jane Moore, Director of Booking and Event Services at the Morris. “Once a contract is signed, the box office works with the promoter. There’s a lot of back and forth and kinks to iron out before a show is announced to the public.” 

There is so much more to come. Next year, the Morris will welcome a 3-week run of The Lion King as the largest and longest running show in history. And in 2022, the building will celebrate its 100-year anniversary. With that milestone on the horizon, there’s no doubt the Morris will be welcoming many more unforgettable shows to the historic stage. 

For more information about upcoming events, visit http://morriscenter.org.