Backstage at San Francisco Opera > February 2012 > What Off in Off-Season?
What Off in Off-Season?
It always surprises me how many people ask me if I work for the San Francisco Ballet during the off-season or assume that I am unemployed from the end of the last performance of the fall season until we load in for the summer season in May. I’m here to assure you that I don’t have any trouble keeping busy from December through April.

I always spend the first few weeks of December doing what I call, “picking up the pieces.” This means that I finally answer all those emails that I’ve been putting off because they required more research, and if I’m lucky can get the virtual in-box pared down from 500+ messages to less than 50 that still require some sort of action.
I file all the papers that are inevitably spilling out of my physical in-box. I take home all the shoes, clothes, dishes and blow dryers that have accumulated around my desk over the course of the season. I try desperately to revive a long neglected plant next to my desk. Next, I take a couple weeks off for the holidays to visit family back in the Midwest. Afterwards, I always come back refreshed and with the firm resolve of fresh New Year’s resolutions of all the usual things like to eat better, exercise more and to not let my email in-box take over my life. [Above: The hectic production office at the War Memorial Opera House]
January, February and March definitely have a different feel than those early days of December when the Production Department feels the exhilaration of having emerged victorious from the long siege of the season. Even though the time of year is wrong, during those early months of the year I feel a little bit like a squirrel gathering nuts all summer and fall to prepare for a long winter. Instead of gathering nuts, I spend those quiet hours in the office trying to accomplish as much as I possibly can so that I won’t have to worry about it during the season. I negotiate approximately 24 designer contracts for the upcoming season and make sure everything they need is in my calendar so that I don’t waste time later looking up their payment schedules, when they need housing and travel and when they are owed per diem. I issue all the production staff contracts and deal with all the accompanying paperwork. I work on budgets for designer expenses and rehearsal hall and theatre expenses.
Next, I work with our Rehearsal Department Director and Production Stage Manager to make certain that the rehearsal and staging schedules are not only feasible but as economical as possible. If we need rehearsal spaces other than our two dedicated spaces at Zellerbach, I research spaces and hopefully secure something that is appropriate, available, nearby and reasonably priced. I make sure the city is aware of what our needs are in terms of space at Zellerbach and in the Opera House. I create a list of days when the stage is available during the season for our Artistic Department to hold onstage auditions. I send a list of dates to the Guild Tour Coordinator that are suitable for Guild tours. I plan all our stage safety walk-throughs and safety training sessions for the stage crew.  
Additionally, I place my orders and request payments for tables, chairs, tents, sound equipment, porta-potties and deal with the million other details associated with Opera in the Park. I will probably arrange some meetings about Opera in the Ballpark and attend at least one walk-through at AT&T ballpark. I will craft an email that will include all the Lightwalking and Super Opportunities for 2012 and send it out to 700+ loyal volunteers in our database. [Above: A tasty snack at AT&T Park]

With the help of our Production Administrative Assistant, we create a very intricate Lightwalking Schedule and an elaborate spreadsheet of what Supers want to do which shows. By the beginning of April, I become almost an honorary member of the Costume Shop because the majority of my time is spent working with them on casting all the supers for the summer season—a task that seems like it should be easy but is in fact quite difficult. Inevitably the costumes are all too big or too small for the people who want to be in the production. All the Super roles are for men and all I have are women. I need clean shaven men and all the men I have are hirsute. It doesn’t matter what the requirements of the productions are, I never have enough of whatever it is. It is frustrating and all the more so because we have such a great group of Supers and Lightwalkers who really want nothing more than to help and be a part of the Company. [Above: The Lightwalker schedule hanging on the wall in the office]
 As you can see, I keep plenty busy during the off-season. After almost 14 years here, I know that at 8am on May 7 when those trucks pull up to the Patch doors and start unloading, it will be all I can do to keep afloat until December. Because every day of the season is about what comes up that day and is never about what you planned for that day—that’s why it’s so important to have everything done and ready by the time the season starts. During the season there’s no point in having a “to-do” list because it’s not going to get done. It’s exhausting and it’s aggravating. But I love every minute of it. Come to think of it, maybe all these years have made me a little squirrelly…
Posted: 2/9/2012 2:43:28 PM by April Busch (Production Operations Director)
Filed under: production, staff


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


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