ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Tours

Ask Playbill.com   ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Tours
 
Exploring the logistics of taking a Broadway show out on the road.

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Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

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This question comes from Samantha of San Francisco, CA.

Question: What non-actor employees besides the production and stage managers go on tour with the casts? Being that there are a lot of people offstage who make a show work (dressers, props masters, hair, lighting, PR, and other admin), which positions travel with the company and which are employed locally in each city on the tour? Answer: Here's a list of personnel for each of The Lion King's two national tours, courtesy of a spokesperson for the tour:

  • 53 cast members - all traveling
  • 21 musicians - 13 traveling, eight local
  • Thirteen carpenters - six traveling (one head carpenter, two automation carpenters, three carpenters), seven local carpenters
  • Ten electricians - four traveling (one associate production electrician, one head electrician, one front light operator, one vari-light operator), six local electricians
  • 20 wardrobe people - six traveling (one wardrobe supervisor, two wardrobe assistants, one puppet supervisor, two puppet assistants), 14 local dressers
  • Five hair/make-up artists - three traveling (one hair/make-up supervisor, two hair/make-up assistants), two local artists
  • Four props people - two traveling (one head prop man, one assistant prop man), two local props men
  • Three sound people - two traveling (one sound engineer, one assistant sound engineer), one local sound man
  • Six creative associates - two traveling (one resident director, one resident dance supervisor), four people who work in the Disney Theatricals main office (two associate producers, one associate director, one production dance supervisor)
  • Eight administrative people - six traveling (two company managers, four production stage managers), two people who work in the Disney Theatricals main office (one national press representative, one booking manager) Total: 143

    So how do all these people get from place to place? "It's just a matter of being hyper-organized," says Frank Lott, company manager of The Lion King's "Cheetah" tour (the other one is the "Gazelle" tour). "I'm a list maker." The tour marks Lott's sixteenth Broadway show or Broadway touring show as a company manager.

    At each tour stop, the theatre typically has its own tech director and department heads who all get hired for The Lion King's run. For the rest of the crew, the tour sends the local stagehands union what's called a "yellow card," which lists the jobs it needs, and the union determines who gets the jobs (it's often based on seniority).

    The musicians work in the same way — the tour tells the local union what it needs, the union determines who gets hired, and the musicians receive the score ahead of time to practice.

    Lott notes that some Broadway shows might travel with only one, two or three musicians, while hiring the rest locally. The Lion King needs more because "several of the musicians that we employ are highly specialized," Lott says. "A great part of the score is African rhythms and African music. Our flute player plays, I believe, 16 flutes. If we were to send a flautist in Toledo and say 'We'd like you to pay 16 different pan flutes,' he would be lost."

    By contract, with the stagehands, Lott says, The Lion King's ratio of traveling personnel to local personnel is more typical. The crew that travels with the show knows the show's quirks, while the locals know the ins and outs of the theatre. "It's an age-old arrangement that works very well," Lott says.

    Unlike shows that travel to a different city every Monday, The Lion King plants itself in one place for a dozen or so weeks at a time. People who travel with the tour stay in corporate housing apartments or hotels built for long-term stays — something with a kitchen.

    The two tours share an extra jump set — a portion of the set that includes the deck of the stage and an electrics package. A week before the Cheetah tour's run ends in City A, the extra jump set starts getting loaded into the theatre in City B. A week later, when the Cheetah tour ends its run in City A, the City A jump set gets packed up and sent to City C, where it gets loaded in in time for the Gazelle tour.

    In each city, the run typically closes on a Sunday. That's when the rest of the set, known as the "show to show," gets packed up and shipped, usually via truck. For the Cheetah tour's Hawaii run, which ends Dec. 9, the jump set was sent by boat — it's slower but cheaper — and the show to show was sent by air.

    Many company members drive from one city to another in their own cars, Lott says, and get there in a day or two. The rest fly together on Monday. On Wednesday, actors get orientated in the theatre, and the local and traveling musicians rehearse together for the first time. The dress rehearsal typically takes place Thursday during the day, and Thursday night is the first preview. Press opening is on Saturday.

    The schedule has been pretty much the same ever since February 2003, when the Cheetah company ended its initial sit-down run in Los Angeles and began touring the country. "It's like clockwork at this point," Lott says.

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