[Gregory Victor, a production assistant on Footloose, wrote to Playbill On-Line to give his unique viewpoint on the process of bringing a major musical to Broadway.]
"Let's Hear It For The Production Assistants!"
Why? What do they do? Their names are in small print in the back of the Playbill. But to my mind, being a production assistant is a job that is as creative and fulfilling as the person who has the job. Creating a big Broadway musical is an endeavor that relies on the combined talents and labor of many more people than the typical audience member realizes.
The beauty of being a PA, as it is more informally known, is that there is always something to do. The Director (Walter Bobbie) and Choreographer (A.C. Ciulla) have a vision. This vision is realized by, and put into action by the Production Supervisor (Steven Beckler), whose decisions are carried out by the stage managers (Dale Kaufman and Jason Bassett). It falls upon the PA to take on any task, no matter how seemingly trivial or insignificant. I highly recommend this position for anyone interested in seeing how all aspects of a show come together. For example, the day before the first rehearsal, I helped the stage managers lay down the first pieces of gaffer's tape on the rehearsal room floor. This taped-out version of the set is how the actors know where the set will reside on the stage, and is a necessity for staging a show.
Footloose rehearsals began on July 6th, 1998 at the 890 Broadway Studios in New York City, where so many Broadway and touring productions have been created. I paid particular attention to the words of the director Walter Bobbie. He told the terribly excited cast that Footloose requires two elements: "Truth and theatrics... Tell the truth, but remember to give em some show biz too.." Since Mr. Bobbie is the Tony-Award winning director of that "razzle-dazzle" musical Chicago, these words of wisdom have a special meaning. Along with Lisa Gavaletz and Sid King, the other Production Assistants, I was prepared to do anything our director and production supervisor needed. Usually, this required answering phones and taking messages for those immersed in the creative process. Some days, it meant spending more time in the subway than in the rehearsal hall, whether delivering things to the Producer's offices, or picking up new scripts or revisions from the photocopy place. Being a PA meant constantly filling coffee pots and water coolers for the actors. Rehearsals were held in the middle of summer, and at last count, the cast was emptying about 18 gallons of water for each rehearsal!
Occasionally, being a PA meant nothing more than becoming a sort of "human sandbag," sitting behind moveable set pieces in order to weigh them down and create a more safe environment for the actors. Having sat underneath the "Burger Blast" banquettes for every rehearsal of "Holding Out For A Hero," it was a thrill to finally sit in the audience one night and see what was happening onstage. No matter what people say about the quality of theatre seats, it was also much more comfortable!
The job also required occasionally finding a chair for someone special who happened to drop by rehearsals, such as Petula Clark, Joel Grey, or the composer of our title song -- Kenny Loggins.
When preview time in New York arrived, it seemed that the audiences for Footloose came into the theatre humming the tunes! It was exciting to watch so many young people filling the seats of a Broadway theatre, as well as the not-so-young people in the audience, who got excited when they heard the introductory chords to a song that brought back memories.
If I come away from this show with a favorite song, it will have to be "Almost Paradise," the yearning song Ren and Ariel sing together as they reveal their love for each other in Act Two. No matter how many times I heard it, I still sighed for the two young people up on the bridge, halfway to Heaven... halfway between adolescence and adulthood... halfway between purity and passion. The first time it was sung in rehearsal by Ren (Jeremy Kushnier) and Ariel (Jennifer Laura Thompson) stands out in my memory. Sitting around a very large table (made up of about six tables put together for the cast of 39!), the two sang it while staring into each others eyes almost the entire time.
Even from the first rehearsal, these two were more interested in hearing and connecting with each other than with "performing" for everyone else. It was electrifying and instilled confidence in everyone in the room that this was going to be a memorable production.
Now that Opening Night is finally here, my final job is to bring the overwhelming number of opening-night boquets, cards, gifts, and telegrams to the appropriate dressing rooms backstage. From laying the first tape on the rehearsal floor, to delivering the wishes of family and friends, being a Production Assistant has been almost as much fun as the cast seem to have doing the show.
If I were doing the show tonight, I would have to dedicate the performance to the talented Bradley Madison. Due to an injury received onstage during the final dress rehearsal out of town at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Bradley was not able to appear in tonight's opening night. Along with so many other talented young dancers/actors/singers in the show, October 22, 1998 would have been Brad's first Broadway opening night. But I have the feeling that for him, and all of them, this definitely won't be the last!