Last night I participated in Madison Opera’s Blog it! Tweet it! night for Don Giovanni. I was among several area bloggers and social media enthusiasts who were selected to watch a dress rehearsal and then tweet and blog about the experience. I was joined by:

Chris Lay

Mary Ellen Spoerke

Writes about rats; will now write about the rat Don Giovanni.

Jeff Turk

Geoffrey Cubbage

Mikko Utevsky
The Well-Tempered Ear Guest Blogger

We began by meeting at the Overture Center stage door. Don’t think I didn’t feel cool walking in there. I’m not beyond that.

Kenneth Ferencek, the director of production, led us on a tour of the backstage. I have to admit that it made me a little homesick of my past life as a theatre person. I loved being backstage, almost so much that I want to get involved in theatre again. Given my pregnancy and workload, I don’t see it happening in the foreseeable future, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

I wanted to share with you some of the photos I took with my trusty I-phone and some fun facts that we learned.

Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage

We began with the costume and wig area. Here you can see the super star, Kelly Markgraf who plays Don Giovanni, getting fitted for his wig. The wigs for the principal actors are very expensive (approx. $1,000 a piece). They are made of human hair and each individual hair is sewn in place. The highest quality and most expensive wigs go to the principals while the smaller parts have  more humble wigs.

To keep the wigs and costumes from stinking up, the wardrobe staff cleans them with vodka after every performance. Yes, vodka. Vodka removes any body odor and does not bring its own odor to the table. They use 100% vodka and I was assured that it was undrinkable. They keep it in a spray bottle labeled V-Freshener.  Kind of makes you re-think your laundry day routine, doesn’t it?

Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage

This is a view from the orchestra pit. You can see the wooden table thing on the platform and that is a harpsichord. For this production, the conductor played the harpsichord while leading the orchestra. Pretty impressive, huh?

Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage

We moved up on stage at this point. It also gives me a little thrill to be standing on a stage looking out, especially when I have seen so many productions there. No matter how big or small the stage, there is a part of me that always stays a little starstruck.

Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage

 This is the stage manager’s console. For those unfamiliar with the theatre world, stage manager = God. The stage manager calls everything you see onstage. The first time I heard a stage manager calling a show, I was in complete awe. There is something so comforting about hearing: Light 59…..Go, Curtain….Go, Music 12…….Go, and then watching as the magic unfolds before your eyes.

In the opera world, the stage manager will cue the singers in their native language out of courtesy. Isn’t that cool?

Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage


Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage

These are pictures of the fly/counterweight system that is used to drop in curtains and sets. Okay, confession: When Ken was talking about this complicated system, this is what I heard a la Charlie Brown: Whaa-whaa-whaaa Weights. Whaa-whaa-whaa- we use a lot of maritime terms because whaa-whaa-whaa. Whaa-whaa-whaa color tapes show how far whaa-whaa-whaa. Whaa-whaa-whaa it’s bad luck to whistle backstage because the first mate whaa-whaa-whaa.

I’m not sure if it was because the baby had decided to play soccer with my bladder at or because I was enamored with how cool all the ropes looked or he was just talking over my head, but I missed some really cool knowledge here. At least I got some good pictures….and I know I shouldn’t whistle backstage.

After the lecture on fly system, we moved into a more familiar spot for me: the props tables.

Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage

Stagehands are type A people. Lots of organization, simplicity, and efficiency. That’s why I always felt more comfortable behind the curtain instead of in front of it. On a props table, everything has its place and that place is outlined and labeled.

Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage

This makes it easy for actors to grab what they need and put it back where it needs to go. If only I could set up a similar system in our house….

Madison Opera Don Giovanni Backstage

Thus concludes our trip backstage. We got to watch a fight rehearsal before the show and had some snacks before we settled into our seats for the dress rehearsal.

Check out my next post to learn more about the actual show.


Have you ever worked backstage on a show or been backstage?


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