Production team and crew: unsung heroes of musical theater

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North Central College’s senior musical, “Once on This Island,” ran during winter term, telling the tale of star-crossed lovers in colonized Haiti. Directed by Miranda Harris, ’17, this version of the story focused on a conflict between the higher and lower social classes, with a tragic love story weaved among political undertones.

A show like this requires a skilled cast, production team and crew to ensure that it comes across in the best way possible. While it is known that the cast must work hard to have a successful performance, the amount of time and energy that goes into working backstage often goes unnoticed. However, those working behind the scenes can be some of the hardest-working members of the show.

Assistant costume designer Caitlin O’Brien, ’19, worked with the head designer on fittings and alterations, as well as making many of the costumes seen on stage. This is the second musical she has helped design for, and though it is a demanding job, she said:

“While it’s really stressful and I would spend many hours in the costume construction rooms several days out of the week. I really honed my skills as a seamstress and as a member of the production team, and it’s amazing to watch the actors bring their story to life wearing the clothes you made for them — it’s honestly really magical!”

Alayna Laverty, ’19, also worked in the costume department. She was a member of both the costume and run crew, helping out with quick changes, alterations and minor fixes that would come up.

Among the more intricate costumes the crew worked on was that of the Demon of Death, Papa Ge, portrayed by Jake Elkins, ’20. His costume was difficult to create and wear because of the addition of bones to the fabric.

Elkins, who wore the costume on stage with no problems, said that the costume crew had to “work hard, like really hard, to get everything to stay in place.”

The bones were falling off during rehearsals, and it took many attempts to figure out that a combination of superglue and thread would be the solution. It is the little things like this that the average audience member would not think about.

Laverty explained how the process of finding a way to make the props stay in place was a lot of trial and error. “Mistakes are to be expected; it’s part of learning how to put on a show.”

Miranda Keating, ’20, was the makeup assistant to the hair and makeup designer. Her job consisted of helping out with makeup and dealing with any department-related issues that came up. She said that each member of the department had a valuable role in contributing to the show, in part because of how passionate they were about the project.

As with any other department, Keating was able to pick up knowledge from her peers. She said, “(The hair and makeup designer) and all of the senior leaders of each crew were all so knowledgeable, kind and full of guidance; it was so cool learning a lot about makeup from someone closer to my age rather than from a professor or online.”

While she said that her role was not the biggest in the production, “It was still important, for as the saying goes, ‘There are no small roles, just small people’.”

The production team and crew behind nearly any musical are often not thought of, as people tend to be wowed by the over-the-top musical numbers and choreography. However, the people behind the scenes are just as important as, if not more, than the cast.

This is not to say that the cast has it easy, but rather that the backstage crew must work just as hard, only they must essentially hide themselves. As Laverty said, “A good show will make you not think about what is happening backstage.”

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