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THE ROAD TO THE NEW HOUSE: An Interview with Director of Production John Gage
Calvin: People want to know, are we moving into the new house next week?
Gage: No (laughs). The substantial completion date for moving into the building is September 28th, assuming that all systems are functional, all fire protection systems are functional and all the safety inspections have been signed off on. At that point, the city will issue an occupancy permit. We will be waiting at the door on the morning of the 29th with about seven semi-trailers filled with everything you can imagine.
Calvin: Such as?
Gage: All of the scenery for Otello and, hopefully, the lights. The center owns the stage lighting but somebody has to hang it, so, we’ve expressed our desire to do so, in order to give our team an opportunity to work with the equipment before we have to turn it on.
Calvin: That makes sense.
Gage: The 29th is also the day the wigs and make-up personnel will be able to occupy the building with their wig dryers, hair stock, tables, chairs, work benches, color, dye – all those things. There will also be a new costume area and we’ve assigned Patsy Neumann, who’s been with us for close to fifty years now, to set up the entire wardrobe operation for the opera. And that entails sewing machines, irons, laundry facilities, costume racks and all the rest, including the costumes themselves. We figure it’s going to take us a full week just to get that done.
Calvin: I must admit, it’s never occurred to me until this moment that I could actually get my laundry done in the new Winspear Opera House.
Gage: You could have had it done at the Music Hall! For the singers, anything that touches their skin can be worn no more than twice before it’s laundered. That includes tights in period shows, t-shirts and other “dainties” people wear.
Calvin: What’s happening with Otello right now? Clearly, the process of building a new production is well underway.
Gage: It is. Dallas Stage Scenery is working on the sets, which is going to be built primarily out of aluminum and steel because these things all have to roll now, so we can move them out of the way. There will be other people occupying the stage, meaning, at times we’ll just have to roll everything away. We’re having to build sets slightly differently than we have in the past.
The costumes are an international project: The women’s costumes for Desdemona and Emilia are being made in London by two very special ladies who do most of their work for Covent Garden. A good portion of the rest of the costumes are military-type uniforms of the mid-1800s. Military costume builders are very, very hard to come by, so, we’ve gone back to Art Factory in Bratislava, Slovenia, and they are constructing the men’s costumes and the clothing for the women, children’s chorus and supernumeraries. Those costumes will be sent here to Texas in early September so we can begin fittings.
Calvin: We have a lot of wonderful productions from our previous years in the Music Hall, are these going to be obsolete on the new stage?
Gage: No, no. Most of the shows we’ve built in the past have what we call caster boards. These are roller systems that go under the set pieces; you jack up one end and put something resembling a skateboard…
Calvin: A very large skateboard. How does the Winspear’s backstage set-up compare to other, similar theaters around the country?
Gage: It’s probably most similar to the revised McCaw Hall in Seattle, where Seattle Opera performs. Behind the stage, there is another complete stage; it’s over fifty feet wide and goes back another fifty feet to the rear. We normally build opera sets to a depth of thirty or thirty-five feet, if you go much deeper than that, the singers run into acoustic problems. So, all of our sets from the Music Hall will drop right into place in the new house, an easy fit. But we’re already testing the limits, the set for Otello is three stories tall and it slides back and forth. Plus, you can roll it out of the way in twenty or thirty minutes; we could never have done that in the old house.
Calvin: What’s keeping you awake nights?
Gage: (laughs) Logistics. Finding time to do everything that must be done while we are learning to operate the new building: How far is it to the dressing rooms? How long will it take to get from Point A to Point B? This place is so much bigger than the Music Hall, backstage, that the traffic patterns are bound to be affected. Stage managers are going to have to pay very close attention to make sure everybody’s in the right place at the right time. There’s a whole list of things – (waving legal pads:) Look at this! It’s kind of like preparing for D-Day! We know it’s coming; we know that we’re going to land on the beaches but we don’t know what all the obstacles are going to be. At least we won’t have anybody shooting back…
Calvin: Well, I don’t know. We’ll have lots of out-of-town critics…Any chance you can sit back in your seat on opening night with Linda and enjoy the show?
Gage: I’ll be backstage on opening night – (laughing:) dying a thousand deaths!Back to The Dallas Opera Newsletter