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In Step With DC
DC Behind the Scenes: Making The Lion King – Backstage
Written by Erin Sforza on August 14, 2019

Managing the backstage area of any production or performance can be daunting, even when working with top notch professional teams and professional performers. Our stage management team of Brenna Skinnon and Shannon Keane were tasked with managing a large scale production with eager and wonderful students ( a lot of them!) complete with props, set pieces, and tons of backstage crosses as well as a VERY large bird! I was able to speak to them and get the ultimate “Backstage Pass” for the staging of our Lion King production.

My responsibilities for recital start with load in, go through tech and performance, and end with load out. My main responsibility is recital day(s) to make sure the show runs smoothly. I double check that the stage is swept, the sound works, scenery is prepped, and props are ready. Then once we start the show I make sure that dancers/crew are safe and the show keeps moving.

The unique challenges of a production this size is that we have 3 different shows that I have to keep organized. I create a calling script for each recital. This script has all the cues for each show. With out this script I’d have no idea how the show(s) would go. In tech I give each dance it’s own page. I write notes specific to that dance’s needs. An example of what I keep track of is the sound cue, this year’s video cues, how many dancers are in the dance, if they start on or offstage, any props/scenery, transitions, and of course curtain pulls. The most involved part of a DC Production for me is always the opening number. It’s when we have the most dancers on stage at once performing. Not to mention the amount of detail that is usually involved. Costume changes and intricate props. Sometimes a special technical element. 

The amount of performers 3 years ago for recital was a slightly overwhelming shock for me. The most dancers I had ever stage managed at once was 200. However, with the help of DC staff and TTP I found it to be a breeze. My number one responsibility when working on a dance show (besides making sure the show looks good) is making sure the performers are safe. This past year during a show we had a dancer go down on stage. For the rest of the dance my eye’s were glued on her for signs of a severe injury. I immediately asked the teacher watching to have ice and ibuprofen available. 

My favorite part of any production is tech and watching it all come together, but my favorite part of this production is always the opener. So much creativity and time goes into that piece. I’m always blown away. I also really enjoy calling the show the day of recitals. All of the excitement of the Tech week is at it’s peak. For this production I don’t get to see the hard work that goes into these dances until they hit the stage for the first time. I’m always excited to watch the teachers faces light up when their classes nail a challenging dance move and I love seeing the smiles of all of the performers as they come off stage. 

Overall, the last 3 years I’ve felt extremely lucky that I get to come Stage Manage for DC twice a year. Once in the winter for Making Wishes Grow and once in the spring for Recital. I work on about 8 productions a year and DC productions are always my favorite. So thank you!

Brenna Skinnon, Stage Manager

First and foremost assisting our stage manager on small tasks to make pre-show and post show as quick and efficient as possible is my most important role. Beginning pre-show, I cleaned stage left to prevent any slips including: taping down sandbags to weigh down the bottom of curtains, glow taping and charging tape to ensure the little ones can see where they are walking, setting up photography stand if help is needed, and cuing our stage manager to let the stage know our animals (performers) that enter from the house are set and ready to begin the piece.

When the show begins, I help dancers exit and enter backstage left whether it be costume changes or changing props, pull the curtain according to the cue sheet and cue our stage manager to let them know about dancers being set either backstage or on; there is a huge emphasis on organization, especially due to the large props and costume pieces involved in this production. We have to avoid costume pieces hitting anything backstage that is either heavy or dangerous (our backstage lighting fixtures, ladders, and etc).

The most unique challenge of this large-scale production would be the possible chaos backstage. Managing dancers of such a diverse age range, in a high stress zone, can be difficult with limited communication due to the atmosphere of the backstage area. One thing I admire most in the Dance Connections company is the maturity of their little ones and strategic effort to communicate every motion involved in the production.

The most involved section of the entire recital production was most definitely the opening and closing acts themed “The Lion King”. The amount of dancers on stage created a large sense of community and a beautiful representation of the “circle of life”, as the dancers of all ages performed as one. I was amazed by the quantity of dancers capable of flooding onto the stage in such a harmonious fashion.

The sum of dancers made it essential to ensure their safety. I worked in Holy Trinity’s theater for five years, giving me an immense knowledge of heavy materials and potential dangerous areas backstage such as mental ladders, wood pieces, light fixtures places between curtains backstage, and the curtains themselves. I would especially try to look out for the little ones!

While watching the opening, the “Circle of Life”, I could not help but feel a sense of pride for getting to be a part of such a large, dedicated production and performance company.  Throughout each piece during the recital, I was dumbfounded by the talent, diligence, and grace held within the dancers. The youngest to the oldest production and performance members of Dance Connection are truly inspirational. The devotion of the fathers and mothers to work a full time job and spend the rest of their nights, heavy lifting, and working with such a positive attitude for the pure support of their children within the company; consequently, the unity and family-like attitude of the company would be my favorite part of working this production.

Shannon Keane, Assistant Stage Manager

Each person involved with this performance had a very important role to play to put together the wonderful end result that we get to see. Our Backstage management team is truly our background heroes managing everything from sets and props to the safety of our crew and performers and staying in communication with our Production Team. Thank you Brenna and Shannon for helping to create a fantastic environment for our dancers to do what they love!

Erin Sforza

Erin is the Public Relations Coordinator for Dance Connection. She studied dance from childhood through college and continues to be an active member of the Long Island theatre community. Erin received a BA in both Musical Theatre Performance and History from the University of Tampa, and has utilized aspects of both degrees working in the hospitality industry, as an Event Coordinator for the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, and as the PR/Marketing Coordinator and Group Sales Coordinator for the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. In addition to being a part of the Dance Connection staff, she is a Travel Consultant affiliated with and