Each orchestra will distribute the work of the Orchestra Operations department in slightly different ways depending on the size of the organization. All positions in the Operations department have an underlying responsibility to ensure compliance of the Collective Bargaining Agreement while each position usually focuses on one of two categories: concert production or personnel. In this post, we will discuss the positions associated with the concert production category: Director of Operations, Operations Manager, Operations Coordinator or Operations Assistant.
I have experienced two different structures of stage crew: union and staff. This is an important factor in determining the duties of the Operations staff as it relates to their involvement in concert production.
The stage crew are critical to production of a concert, and therefore need to know several pieces of information in order to do their jobs:
- Program order including all speaking and equipment moves
- Lighting and Audio needs of the program
- Technical schedule that includes piano tunings, equipment load-in and install, sound checks or anything else that needs to be accomplished inside the theater.
With union stage crew, the Operations staff will likely be tasked with finalizing all details before communicating instructions to the stage crew. Consultation with the stage crew to finalize stage, lighting and audio needs is very common, but the Operations staff often manages the written communication of the final details in a format to the whole production team. Staff stage crew are often more empowered to finalize all production details on their own and also be the ones to communicate the written or verbal instructions to additional stage crew.
Either way, I have found that the most effective way to keep all the details organized is in what can be called a Production Sheet for each program. A sample production sheet is included here: production-sheet-template
I, Sonja Winkler, was guest on a podcast recently where I was able to talk a lot about my career with orchestras. If you are interested, take a listen!
Libsyn Link to Trooper Project Podcast Episode 11 – Sonja Winkler
iTunes Link to Trooper Project Podcast Episode 11 – Sonja Winkler
Professional orchestras tend to structure their seasons to run from September through June, similar to a school year. Full-time orchestras schedule concerts almost every week during the season with subscription series (Classical and Pops), special programs, education and community concerts.
Below are some example schedules of how weeks might be divided up:
- Classical subscription: five rehearsals, three concerts
- Pops subscription: two rehearsals, three concerts
- Education: one rehearsal, three mornings of back to back concerts
- Special program: one rehearsal, one concert (often added to a Pops or Education week)
Often in the Collective Bargaining Agreement or CBA there will be restrictions on how many different programs can be rehearsed and performed each week. There will also be restrictions on how many services (rehearsal or concert is a service) can be scheduled each week. These restrictions are meant to help management staff maximize the number of concerts while still supporting the musicians ability to perform at their best.
Operations Managers have regular office hours (Monday-Friday) and usually work some of the concerts each week (evenings and weekends). When working a concert, the Operations Manager is often designated “Manager on Duty”. This position serves as general support for backstage staff and musicians, in addition to communicating with Front of House about any issues with patrons which might result in delaying or stopping the concert. “Manager on Duty” is often someone from the Operations or Artistic department and a concert duty schedule can be created so that there is a system of rotation for staff working concerts. A personnel manager must be present at every rehearsal and concert, so often there will be a Personnel Manager and Assistant Personnel Manager in a full-time orchestra to help cover all the services each week.
The pace can be overwhelming when producing multiple programs in a week. Therefore, as an Operations Manager, it is of the utmost importance that you find systems of keeping all the program details organized and set deadlines or timelines for each program. Find out who needs to know what in order for the rehearsals and concerts to run smoothly. Set up weekly production meetings to discuss the most urgent items with Operations, Artistic, Education and Production staff. Spend time asking lots of questions until you understand fully the needs of each program, and be responsive to the needs and questions of others. Once the rehearsal(s) start for a program, be present at rehearsals and ready to jump in to address any needs.
When in doubt, take three deep breaths and make one decision at a time. Always remember to make time to listen to the music!