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Talented offstage team helps Oklahoma City Philharmonic deliver Christmas show
A television ad promoting the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's “The Christmas Show” catches your eye. You decide to attend, order tickets, make your way downtown and find your seat in the Civic Center Music Hall.
Moments before the show begins, the lights go down, a quiet orchestral interlude sets a mood, the chorus begins to sing, the curtain rises, and the full company launches into a stirring version of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It's time to surrender to the sights and sounds of Christmas.
Now think about all of the work that goes into making such a production possible. This multimedia holiday offering involves the orchestra, a pops chorale, a dance troupe, a group of children and a featured vocalist.
Planning for this year's event began not long after the 2011 show ended its run. Early on are endless discussions about choosing musical selections, booking talent, what the overall look of the show should be, how much money is budgeted and the hiring of personnel to make the production possible.
Once those decisions are made, music director Joel Levine, director/choreographer Lyn Cramer, set designer/technical director Amanda Foust, lighting designer Chris Dallos, choral director Vince Leseney, costumer Jeffrey Meek and their associates begin creating an outline for the show.
“We generally have the music finalized by May, and I start creating some sketches over the summer,” Foust said. “Those decisions are finalized in early fall, and then we start building new scenic pieces.
“This year, we wanted something visually stimulating for the opening of Act II, so we've built a 16-foot-tall jukebox that has all sorts of lighting elements and a video panel inside it. The number (“Jukebox Christmas Eve”) is quite long, and we're still working out the details about how the video images will happen.”
Let there be light
Foust works closely with Dallos because of the interrelationship between the look of a design element and how it's to be lighted. Thirty years ago, such a partnership couldn't have existed since Foust is based in Minnesota, and Dallos is in New York. But thanks to the immediacy of email, the collaborators can work together almost as easily as if they were in the same workshop.
“I spend a lot of time with the music before I get to Oklahoma, so I come in with a pretty clear sense of the feel of the show,” Dallos said. “Lyn's choreography tells me what I need, from how many people are on stage in a musical number and how we need to get from one scene to the next.
“You're living in a certain environment for a song, whether it's a high-energy number with lots of flashy lighting or a religious piece that doesn't need any of that. We try to compose an arc for the show so the audience can watch a cohesive production. The last thing you want is a static show.”
When Dallos and his lighting programmer arrive in Oklahoma City, they spend an arduous three days making decisions about the subtleties of lighting such a large show. The opening “O Come, All Ye Faithful” has seven lighting looks. The entire show has 250 light cues.
“Lighting is a 3-D experience,” Dallos said. “In a show like this, you not only have lights turning on and off, but turning on and off in time and changing colors at the same time. It's the music that dictates all of that.
“You often hear that a lighting designer is the second director of the show. We give visual cues to the story, we tell an audience where to look and where not to look. We help narrate the story in that sense. I often think of it as flying. It takes a lot of people to get an airplane in the air.”
Another of the production's important elements is costuming. Meek and his two associates devote countless hours to creating designs, ordering fabric, scheduling fittings and the endless stitching that's required to create costumes for the production.