Before the performance of The Phantom of the Opera on May 27, a group of Lawrence students was able to take a closer look at the stage of the Appleton Performing Arts Center. As we sat in the first few rows listening to one of the stage managers, various crew members did last minute checks and preparations.Twenty-two semi trucks brought the show to Appleton, carrying everything from costumes to curtains. They arrived to an essentially bare stage and got to work setting everything up, which in some cases meant literally up, as some of the props were hanging from the fly space. Other preparations included changing some of the piping. The stage manager explained that since some of the theater’s pipes were visible to the audience, they brought along their own pipe heads to make the plumbing look more period.
After the pyrotechnician was through testing the 12-foot-high flame and others had checked the candles that magically come up from the mist as the Phantom descends into his lair, we were allowed to walk up on stage. Miniature trapdoors could be seen in the floor where the candles would spring up and back down on command. This specialized floor was also brought with the company.
As we directed our attention upward, we could see not only four floors of fly space, but also the animated platform that would carry Kristine and the Phantom into the depths of the theater. The mechanism was simple enough – it would incline from side to side as it moved lower and closer to the stage floor. Though how the actors were able to walk back and forth on it and not get sick is still a mystery to me.
The stage manager then directed our attention to perhaps the most important prop in the play: the chandelier. Before they covered it with the gray sheets in which it would make its debut, we were able to see it from behind. We were told that the chandelier was very rarely allowed to be shown from behind while on the floor.
Next, we were taken to the spot where the stage manager would sit and give cues via headset to various crew members throughout the theater, meeting some of the ballerinas on the way. Though we could not be taken back into the wardrobe area because the actors were preparing, we were filled in on some of the costuming details from the side of the stage. Much to everyone’s gasping surprise, the most expensive costume in the show was a $50,000 dress that was only on stage for no more than 15 seconds.
The stage manager told us that before they had arrived, none of them had ever heard of Appleton, Wisconsin, but had been very pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the city and its people. “We eat, breathe, sleep, everything, Phantom of the Opera,” he told us. Well, here in Appleton, we eat, breathe and sleep various different things, but we all enjoy a good opera.