• Behind the Opera 

    By Greta Turney, Assistant to the Director and local theatre addict

    While the talented cast of Threepenny Opera surpasses the expectations put on many local community theater ensembles, the skill of the Great Organizer (as I call him) astounds everyone who has the privilege of working with him.  Stage manager, JuanCarlos Contreras orchestrates the most graceful dance of organization and diplomacy while keeping the entire ensemble and production team on task.

    IMG_0334Seven years ago, in Modesto, California, JuanCarlos began his journey in theater.  He first ran sound for Once Upon a Mattress during his junior year of high school and continued his theater education through his senior year, as well.  After graduating high school and moving to Humboldt County to acquire his Bachelor of Theater Arts from HSU, JuanCarlos took the opportunity to tread the boards in NCRT’s production of Avenue Q and then in HSU’s production of Young Frankenstein.  His true interests, however, remained rooted in the less glamorous and less recognized “behind the scenes” roles without which a show would utterly crumble.

    Now, normally, folks write about the amazingly talented cast, or the brilliant directors and designers, or how shiny and eye-catching the set and costumes will be.  But, what about the skilled people who work just as diligently, yet get a fraction of the recognition?  What does a stage manager do anyway?  Well, I’ll tell you.

    Here’s why Mr. JuanCarlos Contreras is remarkable.  Months before the show rehearsals begin, auditions occur.  JuanCarlos takes everyone’s information, keeps the auditions running smoothly, answers questions from potential participants, organizes cold readings from the script, and finally announces the director’s choices for each role.

    For weeks before rehearsals, JuanCarlos must compose a detailed contact sheet, establish a full rehearsal schedule based on the director’s notes, contact all the players, organize production meetings and designers’ get-togethers, all the while taking thorough notes to reiteratea thought, at a moment’s notice, should an idea fall through the cracks but need revisiting months later.

    As soon as rehearsals begin, JuanCarlos fills binders with notes, writing every direction the director utters.  And, as always happens when ideas in the head start involving real, actual human bodies and a physical space, the director will often change her mind and JuanCarlos must make the appropriate adjustments without skipping a beat.  Then, as the actors struggle to learn their parts, JuanCarlos sits alongside the stage, prepared to offer up a line in a nanosecond should an actor suddenly feel lost.  This may sound ridiculously mundane and boring, but I’m telling you now, its vital! I’m a mother of a family with three children, three dogs, four cats, a turtle and a goat and there are days we’re lucky everyone makes it to work and school fully dressed much less on time and fed!  Just imagine having to know at all times where twenty different people are supposed to stand for two hours of performing, when one person is missing (and knowing which person that is!  I have to take roll-call in the car on the way to town, and I only have three people to herd) and what they are supposed to say throughout the entire production in order to keep the ball rolling.

    Truly, without the stage manager’s diligence and dedication, productions would falter and fall far short of an entertaining production no matter how much time the cast had for rehearsals.  In sheer amazement and disbelief, I had to peek over JuanCarlos’ shoulder to catch a glimpse of his notes.  I stand in awe at his props list.  He prepared his props list with full color-coordination in an excel spreadsheet to include script page numbers for each prop, which character brings the piece on and which one takes it off, whether the prop is consumable or borrowed, and any additional notes for each and every prop.  This may not seem awe inspiring, but have you put a list of 50 to 100 items in a detailed spreadsheet with accompanying information in a matter of a few days?  Try it.  You’ll be awe-struck, too.

    Sure, I watch the movies based on Marvel comics, and, yes, I have had my favorite superheroes.  But, as of now, my new favorite superhero is JuanCarlos Contreras.  I think I should buy him a cape.