The Phantom Lobby Displays

Nick Sheets, dramaturg

To all those who have been following this blog throughout rehearsal and production for The Phantom of the Opera, may I take the time to thank you for your time and consideration. As dramaturgs, we strive to bridge gaps between the “behind-the-scenes” of our productions, and the lives of those who will eventually come to view our work. I hope, as this production’s dramaturg, that I have fulfilled that goal.

The curtains have closed. The DeJong Concert Hall has passed its venue on to other great performances, but for me, there will always be a phantom lurking in the theater. I am grateful for all the hard work that went into this production from so many different outlets.

For my final entry I’d like to show just how collaborative it was to set up my lobby displays for this production. Michael Handley, the lighting designer for this show, is also a professional photographer, and took some amazing shots of the displays I set up. I will show you these pictures as well as give you the caption that went along with each display. For those who weren’t able to come to the show, this is a way for you to still experience some of the ambience that I created as audience members entered the theater.

On the fourth floor of the Harris Fine Arts Center there were two lobbies that led into the DeJong Concert Hall. One of those displays held jewelry and accessories that highlighted different aspects of The Phantom of the Opera.

Jewelry Display

Here is the description that went along with this display: “Inside this display case you will see various accessories that highlight many forms of jewelry found in this show. On your left are various pieces of jewelry in pastel colors that reflect the era of Il Muto, the opera where Carlotta receives a devastatin surprise from the Phantom. In the middle section are pieces of jewelry that reflect what audience members would have worn to the opera, showing off their sparkling diamonds. To your right there are various pieces of silver and gold that reflects the Middle Eastern feel of Hannibal, the opera where dancing slaves and an elephant appear. In the back are flashy pieces that could be used in a masquerade, a highlight of this show.”

Down the same hall there is another lobby where a wig and two pairs of shoes were on display.

Wig Display

Here is the description for this piece: “In this display case is an elaborate wig with pink pastels that would have been worn during an opera like Il Muto. This fictional opera, found within The Phantom of the Opera, highlights the grand opera of France in the 19th century. A major theme of this type of opera was a fascination with the follies of the upper class. The two pairs of shoes are typical of the costumes worn in these operas, as well as those of the French upper-class. Those with enough wealth found many ways to show off their power and money, especially with their clothes.”

When you leave this display you take the stairs down towards the ticket office. Next to the ticket office is another display: two full-size costumes.

Costumes Display

Here is the description for this display: “Before you are two realistic outfits that gentlemen and ladies would typically wear to an opera in the late 19th century. The operas in 19th century France were more social events than they are typically today. Thus, one would dress to impress. Notice the sparkling necklace and silver lace. Women definitely wanted to show off their money and power. You can also note the furs that adorn each outfit. You might compare how you dress today to those of the 19th century who viewed the opera as one of the highlights of upper-class culture.”

A lot of collaboration went into these displays. John Adams, at the BYU Museum of Art, allowed me to borrow the two display cases on the 4th floor. BYU Moving, at the request of Elizabeth Funk, brought and took away the display cases. Angela, in the BYU costume shop, helped me pick out the clothes and accessories. Jason, in Gallery 303, allowed me to borrow the stands that held the descriptions. I could not have done these displays without these wonderful people. I am so grateful for them.

The final display was much larger. This was a rendering of the costume designs and the final outcome of those designs. The renderings were by Angela Robison, Deanne DeWitt, and Janet Swenson. The final outcome portion were pictures taken by Michael Handley at a video shoot for the boat entrance (into the lair), as well as pictures shot the night before we officially opened to the public.

Big Display

I’m grateful for Ken Crossley, Dr. Christine Tanner, StyleCraft (in SLC), the BYU Bookstore, Jason at Gallery 303, Janine Sobeck, and Ariel Mitchell, for all their help in getting this display up. There was no description here. It was neat to see so many people shoot pictures next to this display, as well as stood and stared at the beautiful designs and costumes. Next to the display was a book where guests could write comments after the show. We had so many comments from so many people. Some of the locations they came from were: Utah, Portugal, Texas, Idaho, South Carolina, Florida, Chile, California, Colorado, Virginia, Mexico, Oregon, Brasil, and many more places!

Thanks again to everyone who offered support to this BYU production, as well as my dramaturgical efforts. You all are the best!

Insight into the Phantom’s Final Talk-Back

by Nichoals Sheets, dramaturg

On the 31st of January at 10:00 p.m. we held our final talk-back session between the audience and the cast. The second time was different from the first, in that the final session only had the main characters on-stage. The first session on the 24th of January we had the entire cast. Both turned out just fine and both audiences were enthusiastic about the experience to pose questions and compliment the actors and the production team.

Waiting to Begin

Waiting to Begin

I invited the audience to come up to the front of the DeJong Concert Hall. These were real troopers. The performance itself ended at 10:00 p.m., so these were those who were willing to stay an additional 25 minutes so they could hear from the cast. My hat goes off to them for staying up so late with us.

Responding to Questions

Responding to Questions

The audience would pose a question and then I would repeat the question in the microphone just to make sure everyone understood the question at hand. Then, we gave time to however many of the actors wanted to respond. There were some great questions!

Interested Audience Members

Interested Audience Members

These were the faithful audience members that stayed afterwards. The session was engaging and the audience was very participatory. They kept asking questions, even when we ran out of time.

Actors Responding

Actors Responding

There were some questions that made the actors reflect, others that brought up jokes, and others that brought out their appreciative attitude for the whole process of this show, as well as the great leaders that brought it together.

Looking Out

Looking Out

I want to give a special thanks for all those who have attended a talk-back session for The Phantom of the Opera. Thanks for supporting the arts at BYU.

We hope you’ll make it a habit to attend performances on Thursdays to participate in the upcoming talk-back sessions for the next shows. Henry 5 will be the next show on stage, so I’m looking forward to attending the talk-back session with the dramaturg for that show: Anne Flinders. Even if you don’t attend the performances on Thursdays you are still invited to come after the show to visit with the cast.

Thanks again for being so supportive of all we do at BYU to enrich lives through the arts.

 

 

Phantom Talk-Backs

By Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

Picture this with me. The cast has just left the stage after a triumphant finish. The orchestration is about to play its final score of the night to bid patrons farewell. WAIT! The dramaturg runs out onto stage, “Good evening!” The audience, startled, looks up on stage. “Good evening everyone. We invite you to attend our talk-back session this evening with the actors.” The audience begins to get restless. Are they really going to be able to speak with the Phantom, let alone Christine? What a joy. Once the orchestration ends the dramaturg picks up the mic and the talk-back session begins.

For everyone who isn’t familiar with this term “talk-back,” here is a brief explanation. You, the audience, and me, the dramaturg, destroy the 4th wall that disconnects the actors on stage with the audience.

Last Thursday we had our first talk-back session. It was an excellent experience. Many great questions were posed, as well as nice compliments. Many love this opportunity at BYU to stay after a performance and visit with the actors who have spent so many hours perfecting their art just for you.

Tonight, Thursday the 31st of January, we will be holding our final talk-back session with the Phantom cast. If you aren’t attending this show then you can still arrive at 10:00 p.m. to sit with those brave enough to participate. Whether or not you want to actually pose a question you may still come and observe. I’m sure you’ll leave the Phantom talk-back session with a few things to consider and a better appreciation for all the hard work that went into the production.

Expect photos to come from tomorrow’s talk-back session!

Thanks everyone!

The Power of Spectacle in BYU’s Phantom

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

As The Phantom of the Opera continues to show strong at BYU I began to reflect a little on the power of the spectacle, due in part to my love for works by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Other musicals by Webber, besides The Phantom of the Opera, are also very popular: Jesus Christ, Superstar; Cats; Starlight Express; Love Never Dies (the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera); Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; and Evita. As the pictures show, there is a lot of eye candy in each of these shows, whether through costumes, musical numbers, scenery, lighting, or even directorial choices. Wherever a Webber musical arises, there are sure to be “wow” moments that send the audience on a roller coaster of fun.

Starlight Express's rollerskating set

Starlight Express’s rollerskating set

 

Love Never Die's Coney Island Spectacle

Love Never Die’s Coney Island Spectacle

 

Cats-the costumes are absolutely incredible

Cats-the costumes are absolutely incredible

Now let’s return to BYU’s production of The Phantom of the Opera and take a closer look at what Tim Threlfall’s directorial decisions are to make this show a spectacle like the one on Broadway. Let’s begin at the beginning. We have combined both the orchestra and sound bytes to help portray the show in a manner that envelopes the audience. This isn’t like Oklahoma, where all the music comes from the microphones and orchestra pit. This show has pre-recorded music, such as frog croaks and Phantom voices. Also, Doug, our student sound designer, has the voices moving across the speakers, so it appears the Phantom is moving as well. This is all to create a more spectacular experience as you view the show.

Also, when the Phantom decides to rain on the Masquerade parade, he enters with a very menacing costume. I was very tempted to add this to my display outside of the DeJong Concert Hall, but I want this costume to be a moment of surprise for those who will attend, and hopefully it was for those who already attended. Deanne DeWitt did an amazing job constructing this costume.

What would this production be without fog and a boat? Well, pretty much nothing according to our standards. So, we have fog and a boat. This is a remote controlled car that navigates among the fog during the iconic Phantom song. Once parked on the side of the stage, it is very easy to take it off stage left. To see an up-close picture of this sequence, go to the HFAC display on the south stairwell.

Our director had some issues to clear up before we could fully present this musical. For instance, how do we make the Phantom disappear during the scenes where he is supposed to drop through a trap door? The answer comes twofold: fog and flying. First, we have used a lot of fog to help eradicate the audience’s view of the Phantom. This also serves as a neat effect that fills the stage with an ominous feeling of obscurity. The flying is a neat addition that helps the Phantom appear as a master magician, as Madame Giry informs us. Many hours of practice have passed so all those who are hung/flown in the musical would do so in a safe manner.

These are only a few ways in which this musical has kept its spectacle at BYU. For those who have already seen this musical at BYU, why don’t you let everyone else know your favorite parts that really stood out to you as a spectacle within the show. This could be costumes, dance routines, lighting, sound, etc. Be careful of spoilers though!

End of Phantom Tech Week

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

The time has come for the actors to rest before opening night. They have gone through an arduous week of tech rehearsals. However, even before the actors began to go live on stage, the production crew gathered together for what is called “paper tech” rehearsal. Paper tech is a rehearsal where the stage manager, lighting designer, stage designer, sound designer, costume designers, and just about every person involved in the technical aspect of the show, gather together and make sure all their notes coincide. Since I wasn’t part of the technical crew I went to see first-hand what goes on in these meetings. While incredibly dry and routine, this is an essential aspect so when everyone arrives in the theater, they are all on the same page. With only a week to rehearse with the technical elements, we needed every minute we could get.

Long nights ensued as the actors, make-up artists, costume designers, stage hands, etc. began to form many entities into a finely tuned instrument. We stopped on many occasions to fix errors and perfect the show. I attended various rehearsals, and I am blown away by all the talent found in this show.

This week we end tech week and begin to open the show. We have prepared for our guests. We have sold out performances. However, rush tickets are still available to students only. Here are a few pictures I snapped during tech week. It’s another sneak-peak into the Phantom of the Opera we have created here at BYU.

Preparing Vocally

Preparing Vocally

Preparing Wigs and Make-up

Preparing Wigs and Make-up

Preparing the Stage and Visual Cues

Preparing the Stage and Visual Cues

Preparing the Lights

Preparing the Lights

Super excited for opening week!

Phantom Fan-Fare

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

As the production comes closer, I thought it might be fun to see some of the fanfare that comes with The Phantom of the Opera. For example, the video below (which I think is edited pretty well):

There is no question that a musical which has gained the hearts of literally tens of millions of its viewers around the globe is going to have its own set of fanatic fans, let alone toys. Take the following for example:

Phantom Snow Globewww.givinggallery.com

Phantom Snow Globe
www.givinggallery.com

My Little Pony-Phantomchocolatestarfire.deviantart.com

My Little Pony-Phantom
chocolatestarfire.deviantart.com

Phantom Dollsakky-attack.deviantart.com

Phantom Doll
sakky-attack.deviantart.com

As you can tell, there are lots of different avenues for fans to bring The Phantom of the Opera into their lives.

I’m sure there are even some of our own visitors to this website who are in love with everything “Phantom.” If you are, we’d love to hear what you like about Phantom and maybe any neat things you own that relate to the POTO. Leave your comments below.

The Phantom’s World of French Grand Opera

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

Within The Phantom of the Opera there are three operasHannibal, Il Muto, and Don Juan. While these are fictional operas, they illustrate the pompous and elaborate stagings of the French Grand Opera during the 19th century. Just take a look at the costumes and sets:

Japan's Version of Il Muto

Japan’s Version of Il Muto

Phantom-Hannibal

Phantom-Hannibal

French Grand Opera began in 1828 with the opera La Muette de Portici (The Mute Girl of Portici) by Daniel Auber. Within this five-act show there was a ballet scene, romantic passion set in historical contexts, and the use of spectacular staging effects. Also worth noting is the first production of this opera was performed in the Paris Opera House, or known officially at the time as “Académie Royale de Musique.” Later, in 1858, an attempt was made on the life of Napoleon III when he arrived at the Paris Opera to see Rosini’s William Tell, and plans were subsequently made for an opera house where the emperor and his wife could enter and exit safely.

Original Paris Opera House

Salle Le Pelletier, which housed the Paris Opera in the 1850’s

French Grand Opera reached its “Golden Age between 1830 and 1850. In fact, an opera mentioned during the auction scene of The Phantom of the Opera is Robert, le diable by Meyerbeer, originally performed in the Paris Opera House in 1831.

Robert le Diable Ballet Scene by Degas

Robert le Diable Ballet Scene by Degas

This was one of the most iconic grand operas ever performed. In fact, Frederic Chopin who saw the premiere, exclaimed, ““If ever magnificence was seen in the theatre, I doubt that it reached the level of splendour shown in Robert… It is a masterpiece… Meyerbeer has made himself immortal” (http://www.roh.org.uk).

The French Grand Opera is not usually performed today because of the lavish costumes, elaborate sets, and full orchestras involved. Economic factors of today make shows more prone to budget cuts than budget expansions. However, according to Professor Sarah Hibbard, at the University of Nottingham, studying 19th century French Grand Opera is important for understanding political and social issues of 19th century France. Here’s a video published by ArtPoint:

Erik the Phantom is raised in this culture, and when we as an audience see The Phantom of the Opera, we are returning to that era when lavish costumes were the norm, the scenery elaborate, and ballet dancers essential.

 

 

 

The Phantom’s Paris: Life in the Belle Epoque

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

Awhile back I created a presentation for the actors as their dramaturg. I had been given an assignment by the director and co-director to help the actors delve into their roles in this production. For example, the actor playing Raoul needs to learn what sort of life he would live during the 1880’s in France to help create his back-story. The back-story is the world in which the actor will put himself so everything he does has history during the performance. For example, when Raoul says certain things in Phantom he understands why he is speaking that particular way and what kind of relationships he has with the other characters around him. My job with this presentation was to help create that world.

Depending on the social class in which each character falls, I divided up the presentation into the three main social classes during the Belle Epoque of the turn of the 19th century.

The wealthy would live in houses outside of the city and would be driven in on horse-drawn carriages to and from the city, as well as around the city. This was a real sign of wealth because most people had to walk everywhere. Here’s a drawing of what one of these carriages would look like:

Their living conditions would include bathing (about once a week) and fine dining of cheeses, wines, and other succulent meats of which only their class could afford to purchase.

         

The middle-class would live in the boundaries of the city of Paris. They would live in apartments that weren’t so lavish but were still very comfortable. The middle class enjoyed their newly acquired purchasing power, so the paintings you see in the picture were symbols of wealth.

      

Many middle-class Parisians would attend art galleries to purchase paintings by well-known artists.

The lower-class of Paris didn’t have much of a purchasing power, but this was when the idea of cafes began to become very popular. For example, on Friday, when you would receive your paycheck, you would go to a cafe, chat, drink, and party until the morning. You probably spent a good portion of your paycheck at the cafe.

Living conditions weren’t very comfortable, probably a few people for a small apartment. Newer, more economical apartment buildings were built during this era because of the need to clean up the city and find places for the growing poorer classes that flocked to Paris. These are example of living spaces for the poorer section of Paris.

            

Once the information was presented, each actor had to choose for themselves under which class they would most likely be categorized. That choice helped them build the characters that we will see on stage.

 

 

 

 

 

Behind-the-Scenes with the Phantom Choreographers and Dancers

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

This week I slipped into rehearsal to see what was going on with the dancers for Phantom. What I found was super neat. Just like the costume department, the dancing routines are divided as well. In other words, the dancing in this show is so intense that there are two faculty members at BYU heading up this show. Let me give you a breakdown.

First, we have Lisa Stoddard in charge of the Masquerade section. I spoke with her and asked her what it felt like to be choreographing a very important scene in Phantom. She mentioned it was kind of scary to take on this project. “It’s overwhelming, but it’s also fun.” She finds it neat to fulfill expectations of how people view the musical, but also to add her personal touch to the show through her choreography. Here is a clip of some of the masquerade dancing you’ll see when you come to the show. (I caught them with my camera phone, so forgive the quality!) Obviously when you come there’ll be lots of lights, music, and costumes.

Next, I spoke with Shani Robison, in charge of the dancing found in the opera scenes of Il Muto and Hannibal. She told me she had choreographed operas in the past, and that it had been a dream of hers to choreograph musical theater. She considers this opportunity an exciting honor. She’s working double-duty because she’s also in charge of BYU’s Theatre Ballet. Here’s a peak into her choreography for the show.

After rehearsal I spoke with Paige Hollingswort, Natalie Taylor, and Hilary Wolfley, all three members of the Ballet Ensemble within Phantom. Paige expressed how it had always been a dream of hers to dance in this musical. Now it’s come true! She’s also grateful to be around so many talented people. Natalie said her first show she saw on Broadway was The Phantom of the Opera. Since then she’s worked with professional theatre and now is combining her dance and theatrical talents in this production. Hilary loves the collaborative aspect of this show. For her it’s neat to work with different departments on campus like the School of Music, MDT (Music, Dance, Theater), Theatre, the Philharmonic Orchestra, etc.

There are so many integral parts to this show. You’ve seen the scenic designer’s work, the costumes, and now the ballet ensemble. In the next post you’ll see a little of what I did as a dramaturg to show the actors a bit about where they would live during the 1880’s in Paris. I pulled together this research to help them delve into their roles.

Until then, thanks for visiting!

Behind-the-Scenes with the Phantom Costume Designers

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

The other day I visited the basement of the HFAC, known for its labyrinth-like feel and lack of sunlight (there are no windows). I navigated the halls until I arrived at the Costume Studio. I was curious as to what was going on in terms of costume making for Phantom. There are three design teams working on the costumes for our production.

One team is working on the costumes found in the three operas within the musical. The first opera is Hannibal. This is the scene where we return to the opera house and Carlotta is singing. During this practice the new opera owners enter: André and Fermin. The second opera scene is Il Muto. This opera is where the Phantom plays a prank on Carlotta and Joseph Buquet goes sky diving. The third opera within the musical is Don Juan, the Phantom’s own musical for Christine Daaé. Chelsea Roberts, a current BYU undergraduate, is the designer for this project.

            

A second crew is working on costumes designed by Janet Swenson, a recently retired faculty member, and Angela Robinson, a current BYU student. They have designed the “every day” costumes, or clothing worn by the characters when they aren’t “performing” in one of the three operas within the musical.

The third costume crew is building the quintessential masquerade scene. If you’ve seen the production before, or even the movie, you know the masquerade scene is full of lavish costumes. This team is headed by designer Deanne DeWitt, the Assistant Manager of the Costume Studio, and Desirée Moss, a current BYU undergraduate. These are really neat costumes. I’ll let you have a peak.

Carlotta-Masquerade

-Dancer

Donnette Perkins is in charge of the costume shop. Think of her like Morgan Freeman’s character in Batman. She oversees all aspects of the shop, including hiring talented students and being responsible for all products that end up leaving the costume shop. She is a very integral part of Phantom as the overseer of all three teams. What a job!

We hope you appreciate the work that goes into the costume makers of the production team for Phantom of the Opera. When you come to the show you will always see their work as each actor is on stage. You won’t be disappointed.