Behind the Scenes of Show 307
Chad Lilley is From the Top’s first Beth Klarman Fellow, spending a summer interning with our marketing and program teams, and has appeared on NPR’s From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley. This is part two of his blog series on seeing the other side of From the Top. You can read parts 1 here.
As a performer on the show, you are paraded in the forefront—the “talent,” so to speak. You arrive, and don’t see much of the work that goes into putting together the show. In reality, the work that goes on behind the scenes is often just as important as what is done on stage in order to reach the end goal of creating both a good radio show and live performance.
Show 307 was a unique one for both From the Top and for me. First of all, it was From the Top’s first show that was held in a private residence, that of Bill Rylance, who lives in a beautiful home in Boston’s Back Bay. Secondly, it was my first experience on the production staff, an experience that would prove to be eye opening in more ways than one.
It was my first glimpse into what a show looks like from the underbelly (even one that required half of the usual gear because the venue was too small to fit everything). The show wasn’t scheduled until 5:00 PM that evening, with musicians showing up around noon for dress rehearsal. Production Manager Elizabeth DeVore triumphantly led the production staff to the From the Top offices at a bright-and-early 7:00 AM for “Load-in,” a term I learned basically means moving all of the required gear into the show venue. On this early morning, we would be moving 100-pound crates in the freezing rain onto the bed of our rented truck, only to drive a few blocks and take them all off again.
Of course with my luck, I not only slept in (being the 18 year old that I am, sleep typically means 2:00 AM–12:00 PM rather than 9:00 PM-7:00 AM), but I had also neglected to pack any rain gear for my internship. It’s hard to pack for six weeks in one only medium suitcase – pillows and towels take up a lot of space – so I left some things at home (including all rain coats and jeans) to be shipped over at a later date. They didn’t arrive in time…thus I was left in the pouring rain lifting crates for two hours with nothing but a cotton t-shirt and khaki shorts.
It was a wonderful experience.
Elizabeth had gone through the painful process of acquiring parking permits in front of the home for our truck so that load-in would be easier, but even with signs haphazardly taped to two light posts marking the the reserved spaces, they were still taken. Elizabeth garnered a cheeky smile as she called the towing company, who showed up relatively promptly to remove three cars. “We just ruined some people’s day,” she said as we finally backed the truck into its rightful spot and got started on the load-in.
Truthfully, I very much respect each and every member of the production crew; they know how to navigate these crates as if they were feather weights or bookends—up and down flights of stairs, and through seemingly too-narrow hallways; they’re wizards of their craft, and never seem to run out of energy (the never-ending supply of coffee helps). Through some forethought, preparation, and a little pixie-dust, we got away with loading in without destroying Mr. Rylance’s basement in mud and dings.
After everything was in the residence, we had to unload and run all of our wires, cables, speakers, microphones, “snake boxes” (still don’t know what that is, exactly), and Joanne’s fancy chair upstairs to the living room, once again without damaging the elaborate woodwork on the walls or doors. It’s a tedious process, that’s for sure – but, as with many other laborious projects, there’s a sense of achievement when looking back at your successful work.
I had the option of staying to hear the dress rehearsal but was so tired I decided to go home and take a nap only to wake up and do it all over again, this time in reverse, after the show had ended.
I have come to the conclusion that production, this “underbelly” of many shows around the world, is a necessity. This internship is all about “turning the tables,” and it couldn’t have been more the case than with my short-lived membership on the Production Crew. It takes a special kind of person to do this for a livelihood. Men and women who do not do what can be commonly referred to as “fun or interesting,” but what’s needed in order to make the experience as incredible and seamless as it possibly can be for all the performers, and listeners alike. I don’t have the skill set to do this; you need an eye for this stuff, like how Chris Rando, a member of the production crew, somehow mentally built a blueprint of the residence in a matter of seconds and thus discovered the best ways to set up boxes so that they were both out of the way, and accessible at the same time (harder than it sounds). He knew how to set things up in an efficient way that allowed for the easiest possible breakdown. That’s something I can say is only attainable with experience, and lots of it. It takes so much more than a few performers to put on a show, and I now have a new-found appreciation for all the pre-show work that goes on to make one cohesive, stunning experience for all audience members alike. These guys should be lauded for the work they do.
“They were there hours before you building the stage, and they will be there hours after you leave tearing it down. They should get your salary, and you should get theirs.”
– Henry Rollins