At home behind the scenes: Olympus High stage crew makes the performers look goodJan 05, 2023 12:55PM ● By Heather Lawrence
The Olympus High stage crew sits in the storage room among their ghosts of props past. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)
There’s always a buzz in the air on opening night, and this one was no different. Families, friends and community members gathered at Olympus High in October for the fall musical “Footloose.” Students rehearsed for months, and the show had it all—dancing, singing, rebellious teenagers in church, a real car on stage.
But it wasn’t just the teachers and performers who made it a success. Olympus’s stage crew, a group of 25 dedicated students led by teacher Jackie Fredrickson, made the lights go up and the sound come on. They put in hundreds of hours before and during the show to get everything just right.
“The stage crew is sometimes an ‘invisible’ part of productions at Olympus, but they work hard and make me proud,” Fredrickson said.
The stage crew at Olympus is a class, but it also requires time outside of school. Some say they “lived” at the school during musical rehearsals, just like the cast did.
Stage crew is in charge of creating the sets used in productions. Just off stage right is a large storage area and workshop. It’s full of the ghosts of productions past—random mismatched chairs, a working door on wheels and huge painted backdrops.
“I really like building sets and taking things apart,” said senior Joe Van Dan. Van Dan is a stage crew pro and has done every job there is.
“In addition to building sets, I’ve been on lights, sound, stage right and left manager, and fly manager. Jackie [Fredrickson] is always here, but at this point we can pretty much run a show on our own,” Van Dan said.
Freshman ShyAnne Ginner is still learning the ropes. “I took this class because it sounded fun. I wanted to make things and hang out with friends. I’ve learned a lot, and I like painting and perfecting sets,” Ginner said.
Students Lola Johansen, Anna Hanson and Arabella James said stage crew has taught them to plan and prepare. Copious notes are made in the scripts for productions. The notes tell the stage crew when to move the curtains up and down, which props need to be moved on and off the stage, and all the details that keep the show running smoothly.
But they learned you should always expect surprises, especially when you’re driving a car on stage.
“In ‘Footloose’ there was a scene with a car, and someone decided we should use an actual electric car. During one of the performances we pulled it up on stage to the point we’d marked. Someone thought it should be a little farther forward, so they moved it and it almost hit me! It hit a red table, and now the car has a red paint mark on it.
“You think you’re prepared for everything, then that happens!” Johansen said.
Students in stage crew love theater, they just prefer staying out of the spotlight.
“I used to perform in things, but it triggered anxiety. With stage crew I can dress in black and be a part of making the show work but it doesn’t make me anxious. I have fun building things and am learning to run the spotlight,” James said.
James thinks some actors notice the stage crew, but she hopes that more people will “get it.” “Without us the show would not go on,” James said.
Some families have performing in their blood, but Hanson has stage crew in hers. Her dad is the executive director for performances at Red Butte Gardens.
“I’ve been back stage ever since I was little, and I see a career path in this industry. I went to work with my dad and helped move props and was there during sound and lighting checks,” Hanson said.
Hanson and the other stage crew members all agree their knowledge is a blessing and a curse. They find themselves critiquing any show they attend.
“Whenever my dad and I go to a show, we always point out things like static in the speakers or fuzzy mics. It’s like now I can’t ‘unhear’ it,” Hanson said.
Arik Uremovich finds the same problem, but with curtains. “I work stage left and the fly station (the rigging system for the curtains). I work hard to make sure the curtains are at the perfect position. When I see someone doing a bad job on curtains, it just bugs me,” Uremovich said.
Working the fly system isn’t simple. There’s a complicated system of 33 separate pulleys, each connected to a curtain and a weight. The curtains are hung throughout the stage so focus can be drawn to specific areas. Pulling a curtain up and lowering it down are matters of using body strength and balancing the weight.
The “stage crew left” as they’ve come to be known is a group of some students who like to work on stage left, which includes the fly station. This year, there’s been a trick to labeling the flys—one member of the crew, Ender Adams, is color blind.
“We had to come up with a whole new system where we only use red and green labels so we can do things safely and quickly,” Uremovich said.
Uremovich and classmate Natalie Crofts co-managed the “Footloose” show. “We found we work well together, and good backstage managing is crucial. We learned to delegate and had good teamwork,” Crofts said.
Crofts and Uremovich got high praise from their peers. “If Natalie and Arik don’t go into stage managing for a career, that would just be sad. They are really good, and they made us a good team,” said Charlie Bishop.
Teamwork is essential when the stage crew has to create in reality what theater teacher Robin Edwards envisions.
“Robin has very high standards. She’s pushing us the whole time—making buildings, improvising sets and giving us notes during tech rehearsals. It can be stressful, but the result is that our shows look amazing. We get lots of compliments, and our set design for ‘Footloose’ was awesome,” said senior Logan Black.
Black, who plans to work in stage crew in college, said the high standards have gotten into his head.
“I’ll go to a show at Hale with my grandma, and the whole time I’m commenting on the sets, what they’ve done, how they’ve done it. She says, ‘Can you just stop talking and enjoy the show?’”
The stage crew runs the sound mixer and lighting during assemblies and also when the theater is rented to outside productions. “They do a lot for us. They’re very valuable and a big part of the school’s success,” said assistant principal Jordan Kjar.
The mixer is about halfway back in the auditorium. The lighting booth is at the very back. It’s a small room with chairs, a desk, a window looking out to the stage and a computer. The walls are covered with encouraging notes.
A big folded card on the wall made of black butcher paper reads, “What the audience sees,” on the front, and there’s just one big rectangle drawn to represent the stage.
Inside the card reads, “What’s really going on,” and the rectangle is now filled with a flurry of activity. Shapes and dialogue bubbles on every side displays everything the stage crew does during a show.
To design lighting for a show, Olympus uses industry-standard professional lighting software. With it, the lighting for an entire show, detailed within slices of seconds, can be meticulously planned.
“Footloose’s” lighting was designed by senior Ben Barton, who liked the creative freedom he was given for the show.
“I joined stage crew three years ago because I wanted to see what it was like behind the scenes. I love theater, but I don’t want to be on stage. This way, I’m involved without being in the spotlight,” Barton said.
Barton’s involvement is exactly what the stage crew program is designed to create: students who learn career-directed skills and accept responsibility for their work. It makes Fredrickson proud to know she can give them an assignment and they just get it done.
“In the last show we needed a stained-glass window for a church scene. I told the students, ‘It needs to look like this,’ and they ran with it. They really took ownership, and it was great to see them do that.
“They work so hard,” Fredrickson said. “They deserve to be highlighted and appreciated."