September 28, 2009

Ragtime at Portland Center Stage – the first week

This past Friday (9/25) was the opening performance of “Ragtime” at Portland Center Stage.  Although the actors have been rehearsing for over a month and the orchestra has now had a couple of full weeks, the public hadn’t had a chance to see the show until this weekend, so (as is always true) the show suddenly became a lot more real feeling as soon as there were paying audience members in the seats.

For both Grey Gardens and Ragtime, the orchestra has had a rather non-traditional placement in the theater.  Instead of being in the orchestra pit in front of the stage, the orchestra lives on what’s called the “slab,” which is behind the stage.  So, as an audience member, if you had X-ray vision and could see through the back wall of the set, you would be able to see into our space.  The instrumentalists’ backs would be towards you and Rick Lewis (our conductor) would be facing you.

Rick watches what is going on onstage from a small closed-circuit television in front of him.  The actors can see Rick’s conducting on a large monitor facing the stage mounted in the back of the theater (if you were watching the performance, you could turn around and see it from most seats in the house).  The instrumentalists also get to see what is going on onstage via a large monitor behind Rick.

Of course, there’s also sound to deal with.  The singers are miked and played to the orchestra through monitor speakers in front of the instrumentalists, and vice versa.  The audience hears a mix of the two (singers and instrumentalists) through the house speakers (no, not Nancy Pelosi).  All of this is controlled by the wonderful sound crew at PCS.

These complicated logistics are really just to allow everything else (the playing, singing, acting, dancing, etc) to be presented to the audience in the best sounding and looking way.  This is important, because PCS cast some great onstage talent for the show.

The orchestra has some great talent as well.  It’s a challenging score for everyone involved, whether that means Clark Rust powering through the unrelenting high notes in the trumpet book or me having to deal with playing flute and piccolo without ever getting a break to play some saxophone!  But, according to the audience, we sound good doing it, and I think we’re getting better at it each night.

Ragtime runs through November 1st.  We perform eight shows a week (Tuesday through Sunday, matinees on Thursdays and alternating weekend days).  Hope to see you there.