If you walk into Popejoy Hall the morning before a show, you might be surprised to see a pretty empty stage. You’d probably wonder how we expect to have a show at all that night.

Loading in Cirque Mechanics’ Boom Town was pretty typical. At 10 in the morning, a crew of Popejoy stage hands began focussing lights. At 1, several more stage hands started putting up the set and stage rigging. At 5, sound technicians set levels. By 7pm, less than nine hours after the crew started, the show was fully set up on stage.

One of the miracles of the theater is how a relatively small crew — 10-15 stage hands — can transform an empty space to a stage full of wonder in less than a day.

While we actually did all that work yesterday, we don’t normally load in a show until the morning of the first performance. The only reason to start one day early in this case was to give the Cirque Mechanics performers time on our stage to practice their routines.

The work actually starts weeks earlier, especially for shows like Cirque Mechanics that don’t tour with their own lights. Our technical crew communicates with the company by phone and e-mail to gather information. The show’s technical director sends us a light plot that tells us where to hang instruments and generally where to aim them. We also get lists of things we’ll be responsible for, microphones to dressing rooms to catering.

In this case, we hung the lighting plot this past Monday. We got double duty out of the plot because we also used it for one of our Schooltime shows, Dan Zanes & Friends. It’s not uncommon for us to have as many as three shows’ worth of lights hanging in our theater at one time. I hope you never spend an entire performance watching the lights, but if you did you might well see an instrument that never comes on. Likely, that instrument is there for a different show.

Once the show is over on Saturday night, our crew will tear down the set, pull out the company’s rigging, pack it all in their truck and send the company away to their next engagement. The stage will be empty once more, ready for the next morning’s crew to set up the stage for Sunday’s concert.

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