On Tuesday, November 12, three students from Kingswood Oxford School participated in a Junior Achievement shadow day at The Bushnell Performing Arts Theater called: “Behind the Curtain - the Business of the Theater.”
Maggie Eberle '20, Sadie Margolis '21, Olivia Pear '21, and approximately 50 students from other area schools got an inside look and feel for what it takes to attract and execute large and small-scale productions. The day included a tour of backstage, a history of the building and presentations by personnel from a variety of departments.
Students learned that a show itself is just the final act in a complex, ever-evolving process. Crucial factors that constitute the business side of the theater set the stage for delivering consistently successful and profitable performances when the curtain goes up. Director of Programs Tom Sessa and Production Coordinator Sam Burke addressed strategic elements of the theater business like putting a season together with a variety of shows that appeal to various audiences and negotiating contracts with agencies and performers regarding their pay and minute details like straw preferences while on stage. Fun fact: Michelle Obama likes the bendy straws over the straight ones. It is a business of details and relationships. Learning the nuances of how to keep things moving despite controlled chaos is critical.
The Bushnell opened in 1930 and was built by Dotha Bushnell Hillyer as a tribute to her father, Horace Bushnell. The main theater, Mortensen Hall, features beautiful elements of art deco style. Images of the sun, moon, and stars sit above the audience on a mural that appears painted but is actually suspended from the ceiling. In fact, it is the largest suspended mural in the country. A second smaller theater, The Maxwell M. and Ruth R. Belding Theater, was built in 2002. It holds 906 seats and blends the same art deco motif with a contemporary feel.
In addition to learning about the history of the structure, groups had the opportunity to get an intimate feel for its character, and to see how each performance has left an indelible mark on its history. Tucked away off the main stage, where one looks out at the plush red seats and ornate gold columns, are the hidden gems of the historic Bushnell. The large matte black garage door was built specifically for The Lion King performance because the infamous Pride Rock wouldn’t fit anywhere else. The ghost light, a bulb that stands by itself on stage right at all times, is thought to ward off the ghosts of bad shows past. It also serves to alert actors and actresses to the edge of the stage so they don’t fall off...arguably just as helpful. A small, warm workroom, with pale green walls, is packed with signatures from legendary performers who took the stage over the last 90 years such as BB King, Katharine Hepburn, Ray Charles, and Idina Menzel.
This season The Bushnell will welcome old favorites like Rent, Fiddler on the Roof, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and newer shows like Come From Away and Waitress. The wildly popular Hamilton will also be added to the schedule. It will also bring speakers like award winning-astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and National Geographic Live and groups gaining increasing popularity like Black Violin, an American hip hop duo.