This weekend saw me at two sing-along concerts, at pretty much the opposite ends of the cultural spectrum yet not without some similarities. At one: Carmina Burana, the chamber version of the Carl Orff masterpiece. At the other: the “musical episode” of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer!
Both audiences were enthusiastic and truly having a ball participating in something they loved. True, “Buffy” had more people dressed as the undead. But Carmina Burana had the distinction of being the first event where I filled the role of Production Manager.
Yes, it was up to me to make sure this concert, at the historic St. Andrews Wesley Church, went off without a hitch. Only now that it’s all done can I say with confidence that, yes, I was able to do it! (Though I had a lot of highly comptent assistance.)
Friday night was the culmination of a commitment I made almost a year ago in response to a request from Charles Barber, conductor and a co-founder of the new chamber opera company, City Opera Vancouver.
I’d met Charles by way of my interest in the Pantages Theatre in the Downtown Eastside. The Pantages was a gem from the Vaudeville days that, incredibly for this city of mindless heritage demolition, was not only being preserved, but restored to probably an even more luxuriant state than in its heyday. I went on a tour of the abandoned old theatre and knew I had to get involved with what these folks were doing. This led to my arranging for some of my fellow singers in The Broadway Chorus to provide some live showtunes during a subsequent tour. I made some phone calls, picked up some equipment, and helped prep the theatre for the show. Based on that tiny bit of arranging and logistics, Charles asked me if I wanted to fill the same role for the Sing-Along Carmina Burana concert he was planning for the fall of 2007.
It’s a big leap from getting some Chorus folks together for a few tunes to taking on the responsibility for the smooth running of a concert involving professional classical musicians and a chorus/audience of hundreds, in a towering landmark church. But Charles had a convincing way about him, and clearly a lot of confidence in me. I couldn’t help but accept.
In the intervening year, my end of the work was minimal, but grew steadily as the event crept closer. Early on, I joined Charles and publicist Kevin McKeown in touring venue choices, but mostly I felt I was comfortably on the sidelines while those with much more experience dealt with the heavy lifting of planning this thing. Things like confirming the venue, arranging the musicians, setting up the online ticketing, arranging for the pianos and such were capably handled by Charles, Kevin and other members of the City Opera board.
But as things progressed, there was more for me to handle. Soon there were logistics to arrange, phone calls to make and emails to send. Arranging for a stage to be installed. Researching possible means of taking credit cards at the event. Updating the City Opera website and creating news updates for the online mailing list. (Parallel to my Producer duties, I had built the City Opera website. Later, I’d also create the print ads and associated graphics materials for the concert.)
More than anything, though, my role was to ensure the day itself went smoothly – instruments and equipment delivered on time, and volunteers recruited and well-informed. Questions from volunteers, musicians, and ticketholders answered. Notes taken on every minute detail as it came up and anticipating everything that might come up.
Finally, after eleven months, the Big Day was here. The way it started was to be a theme for the whole day: a seeming crisis turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was supposed to pick up Charles at 7:30 at his place on the East Side, which meant an early wake time. I awoke feeling suspiciously rested. The clock said: 7:30!
Instantly awake, I punched Charles’ number. But he had wonderful, wonderful news for me: he had miscalculated and I didn’t need to pick him up that early anyway! Instead I waited at home and taped the excellent piece that Rick Cluff did on “Carmina” on his CBC-AM morning show, The Early Edition.
Arriving at the church at 9:45, I was calm and focused, and clutched my production log/notebook by my side with an iron grip. The day itself was a whirlwind of picking up and dropping off things, keeping an eye on the clock at all times. What seemed like a wide-open afternoon with relatively little to do grew shorter and more tense as some key pieces of the puzzle were delayed: for example, the programs weren’t ready in the morning as promised. This too became a benefit: once they were ready, I only needed to drive a fraction of the distance to pick them up (Clark Drive vs. Boundary Road). And I was already on the road doing another last-minute errand: getting “cash boxes” (a couple of tackle boxes from Army and Navy) for at-the-door ticket sales.
I made one last pit stop at home to change, then zipped back to the church. Before I knew it, it was 6 pm and the volunteers started arriving. And suddenly, there I was facing what for me was the most anxiously awaited and perhaps dreaded moment of the entire thing: addressing the volunteers and giving them their assignments. I can get up in front of a crowd, no problem – if I’m performing something well-rehearsed. But for some reason I felt nervous about addressing these folks, many of them older than I, and needing to give them the info they needed, and to appear to know what I was doing. Somehow I worried I would seem disorganized or unsure of myself as I sorted everything out.
I needn’t have worried. Apart from introducing myself to one woman twice (hey, she looked a lot different in her red dress than she did with her coat on!) I pretty much kept on top of everything and moved along briskly – with a few moments of laughter punctuating the proceedings. Soon every task was assigned. Everyone was in place and seemed to know just what to do.
Now the point of no return loomed. It was 7 pm, pretty much time to open the doors. But City Opera board member Doug Berg was still on his way to the church, bringing with him the card swiper that would allow us to properly process credit cards, and the cash float (along with Charles, our conductor!). Finally he arrived, and sat down with the volunteers to show them what they needed to know. I opened the door a crack and saw a line of people running down the stairs, patiently waiting to enter. We had to let them in and get started. The door swung open, and the procession of paying customers (and guests) began. There was no going back now – the evening was under way!
The hour flew by as I flitted back and forth between the front and side doors, checked in with everyone, answered questions, and the like. Things were pretty much running like clockwork but my nervous energy kept me on the move. Around me, the crowd was dense and the mood was upbeat.
Finally, as 8:00 approached, the lobby died down, and just as when the last few kernels of popcorn are popping, it was time to make that split-second decision. OK! Nora headed up on stage and shared wonderful opening remarks with the crowd. I was hovering nearby but was surprised when she thanked “our Producer, Adam Abrams” and gestured in my direction. The church echoed with a wave of applause. It was such a gratifying moment.
And then the concert began!
Charles had always emphasized that the evening was meant to be fun, and that with a chorus of varying experience dealing with the sometimes-tricky rhythms of Carmina, occasional “train wrecks” were fully expected. However, to the credit of our fine one-night-only chorus, that didn’t occur. It sounded wonderful and the entire piece was performed without any derailments!
Sadly I was too busy preparing for the “exit strategy” of dealing with hundreds of people returning sheet music, and returning their deposit to them, to simply listen to all of the concert – though I certainly enjoyed much of it. And it was beautiful. I’m a show-tune guy myself, and not by any means an expert on or aficionado of choral music. In fact, before I got involved with this project, I actually had no idea what “Carmina Burana” quite was, exactly! That’s changed now, of course – and what I heard that night was melodic and moving. Thanks to this event, I feel like Carmina Burana will always mean something special to me.
Another day, another sing-along!
The very next day, groggy though I was, I headed out to another Sing-Along – this time, for the musical episode of the TV show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Like I said earlier, as non-Carmina as you can get. But the crowd was having as much fun in their own way – and the costumes were certainly more memorable!
I confess I’m by no means a hard-core “Buffy” fanatic, but I was there because, as part of The Broadway Chorus, I had sung some tunes from this episode in one of our shows. And they were good! I’d also borrowed a tape of the show and been totally entertained by it. So here I was, surrounded by total fan-boys and girls, geeking out on their favourite show, talking about all the characters, the twists and turns over the years of the show… even dressed as characters from particular seasons or episodes. And I didn’t even know all the main characters’ names! Happily, people were all to eager to share info with me, and Sarah Jaysmith, who’s in this year’s Chorus along with her husband Gil, was there too.
By the end of the show, I was sensing that I might be on the verge of becoming one of those hard-core Buffy fans myself! The show is wonderfully well-written, with great characters, clever plots, a touch of the supernatural and macabre, but above all doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a great sense of FUN, something I value very highly!