Making a NU Stage show: A multimedia story

There are two types of people in this world: the ones that get seen and the ones that don’t.

When NU Stage, Northeastern University’s student-run musical theater club, performs its production of “Godspell,” the people dancing on stage will get all the attention.

But there’s a secret group, pulling strings, that no one will notice.

Emma Soucy, a recent Northeastern graduate, is one of those silent but vital players in the show. Soucy is a technician for Northeastern’s event management department, a role she started as a work-study student during her undergraduate years. She joined as an usher and learned lighting simply because there was a need for it.

She’s since become a master of the lights, or, in her more humble words, “kind of the most experienced lighting tech on staff right now in terms of programming.”

For “Godspell,” the club’s lighting designer will bring Soucy her designs, which could include anything from funky colors to flashing lights. Entrusted with the artist’s vision, she’ll get to work programming it into existence. When “Godspell” opens, she’ll just sit in the auditorium and press a “go” button for each cue, but there’s a long road to travel before that happens.

“The hard part of lighting is the programming,” she said.

Her programming baby is an ETC Ion, a pricey light board with well over thirty keys, plus knobs and dials. Press certain keys together and you’ll get even more commands. There’s a learning curve that she compares to typing.

After five years, Soucy can do it without looking.

Still, she estimates it will take her 2 and a half to 4 hours to program the initial cues for “Godspell,” and that’s before the inevitable tweaks from the designer.

“You’re programming and making edits to your work probably up until the show starts,” Soucy said.

Only event management employees are allowed to run the board, so it’s usually up to her to sit there during the NU Stage shows, but there are a few exceptions.

Blair Childs-Biscoe is one of those exceptions. As both co-lighting designer for NU Stage’s performance of “The Drowsy Chaperone” last spring and an employee of the event management department, she was authorized to touch the board. That meant she could have her cake and eat it, too, or, more specifically, design it and program it.

She started by annotating the script with ideas and working with the show’s other production staff members to bring it all together. She described the last month of the process as a crunch.

“Hopefully by the final dress [rehearsal] everything is together the way you’d like to see it, and so you can just make some final little touch edits,” she said. “But a lot of the time that’s not actually what happens…as does happen in technical theater, something goes wrong or you go behind for some reason.”

Her favorite parts were working with the production staff and seeing the payoff of her work.

“There’s a couple of numbers that I remember in particular that was like, ‘Aw man, you did a good job! Good job, Blair!” she said.

NU Stage is a consistent two-timer in Northeastern’s Blackman Auditorium each semester with a revue and a main stage musical, but there’s a nonstop flow of additional events through Blackman and the university’s other event spaces for the staff to manage. The department even has its own co-op to help.

Dante Marino, a third-year music industry major who currently has the role, took it because of his interest in music. His favorite part of the job is being exposed to events he wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

“You see what people are doing,” he said. “You see all kinds of different art forms.”

His most memorable shift was during the Chinese Students and Scholars Association Gala, which had about ten acts, ranging from dramatic performers to a 20-plus-piece band (this clip is from the 2015 gala hosted by MIT).

“It was like four days like 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., just working, trying to get the show perfect and figuring everything out, and there were just like a hundred people running around, trying to make it happen,” Marino said.

Soucy, now in post-grad life, has been able to transition her backstage experience into a career. She does freelance lighting work for audio visual, or AV, companies, and is a desk electrician on the Huntington Theater’s new play,  “Tiger Style!” Her job focuses on run crew duties.

According to Soucy, the most fulfilling part of lighting is when you “see the transitions happening perfectly, working well with the music, working well with the acting, and you actually see it in real time.”

Check out my photo series from the NU Stage “Godspell” rehearsal room:

To round out the NU Stage story, watch my behind-the-scenes feature video on “Godspell” ensemble member Carol Hicks:

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“Hamilton” Address Pence

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Photo (cc) 2016 by Travis Wise

“Hamilton,” Lin Manuel-Miranda’s incredibly successful hip-hop musical, may have lost a few fans this week. More specifically, it may have lost Donald Trump and his supporters.

Vice president-elect Mike Pence attended the show on November 18. During curtain call, the cast made a statement directed at Pence, expressing concern over the Trump administration.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FHamiltonMusical%2Fvideos%2F1565461260147412%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Aaron Burr actor Brandon Dixon spoke on their behalf:

“We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

The next day, Donald Trump tweeted in response to the statement:

The hashtag #BoycottHamilton starting circulating on Twitter, followed by #NameaPenceMusical, which included anti-Trump/Pence puns on musical titles:

A Look Inside a NU Stage “Godspell” Rehearsal

On November 14, I got a behind-the-scenes look at the making of NU Stage’s production of “Godspell,” which opens December 2. NU Stage is Northeastern University’s student-run musical theater group. Check it out!

 

Theater at Northeastern University – A three-part story

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Photo (cc) by Hernan Pinera

 

I’ve dipped my toes in mixed media like photography and video on this blog before, but reader be warned! I’m preparing a multistep, multi-format project for December. 

Since I’ve been focusing on entertainment and celebrities, I’ve decided to take that idea a little more locally and explore the entertainment and celebrities of my own Northeastern University.

I’ll be making a 3-minute video profiling Northeastern student Carol Hicks, who goes by Carly. She’s an environmental science major here, but she devotes her free time to music. A classically trained vocalist, she tried theater for the first time when she came to college and is now a soloist in NU Stage’s upcoming performance of “Godspell.” For my video, I’ll help you get to know her a little, as a person and as a performer, and give you a look at her experience with NU Stage, which is Northeastern’s only student-run musical theater group. They put on both a main stage show and a musical review each semester.

To accompany the video, I’ll be doing a photo series that goes behind the scenes of “Godspell” to show you what the cast does at a typical rehearsal. I’ll photograph dancing, singing and the general antics of a cast of performers as they prep for their big show.

The final part of my series will be a piece that takes the focus off of the performers and onto the people behind-the-scenes. I’ll be doing a text piece profiling the team of ushers that makes the show go on. Most audience members only know them as the people who take their coffee away; my article will show the rest of the story.

I’ve been chatting with Carly this week and we’re both enthusiastic about the profile. The leaders of NU Stage have granted me access to a rehearsal, and I have a contact who is helping me get time with the ushers. Between the three methods of storytelling, I hope my readers can get an good look at what goes into local entertainment events like college theater.