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Behind the curtain at the Overture Center for the Arts

November 6, 2009

I’m a theater person; Always have been, always will be. Musicals are notorious for getting me out of my seat and dancing in the aisles (á la Mama Mia) or oo-ing and ahh-ing at the costumes and scenery (ahem: Lion King!).

So when I was offered a backstage tour of the Overture Center for the Arts as part of Madison Opera’s “Blogger Night at the Opera,” I was like a kid in a opera-themed candy store! Tuesday, I headed to the backstage door at Overture where I met fellow Madison blogger Maddie Green of Dane101, and the production manager—and our tour guide for the afternoon—Ken Ferencek, who showed us around the set and stage area before this weekend’s main event, as Madison Opera will present “Carmen.” (Side note: Myself and Managing Editor Sarah DeRoo will be blogging FROM the event tonight, so be sure to check back here, as well as on our In the Know blog often for our first-timer-at-the-opera-reactions!)

First stop: The stage, where I learned my lesson for the day. As Ken says, when it comes to opera, “Everything is really big.” The voices, the movement, and quite obviously, the set (which you can see below) up close, it is absolutely enormous! The pillars will stay through the entire show as they’d be quite hard to move around backstage.

I think what impressed me the most about the set was the fact that at some time during the show, about 100 singers—30 of which are children—will be on stage at the same time! And few other fun facts: 1) The reason there are multi-levels on the set is so that when a large amount of actors are on stage, they’re able to project their voices from different levels. 2) There is a rectangular white screen that sits above the main curtain that will stream the English translation of the performance so those of us who don’t speak the language can follow the story line. Although, I have a feeling that it’s possible to follow an opera based on the beautiful vocals and emotional movements alone (think big!).


Toward the end of our time onstage, the front curtain went up, giving us a prime view of the entire house. It’s such a gorgeous sight to behold…I really felt like a superstar on stage (luckily for everyone in my party however, I resisted the urge to bust a move and break out in song—also a sight to behold).


Next stop: The basement, which is entirely more exciting than it sounds. Costume extraordinaire Karen Brown-Larimore (also the owner of Mallatt Pharmacy and Costume on Monroe Street) chatted for a bit about her work in theater. Always with safety pins and needles at her side, Karen is a master of her trade, sewing costumes, re-fitting, un-fitting and fitting again to be sure each costume—no matter if it’s for a principal, a juggler or a child—is just right. Her motto on the job? “It’s all about working with what you have.”

Once inside the costume room, I was surprised to find three washers and three dryers (in addition to a wide variety of workspace and sewing machines, which you can see below). Did you know that they wash socks and undershirts after each performance for the principal actors? I had no idea! Imagine the work that must go on even after the show is over.


Last stop: The makeup room, where we met Jan Ross, who in addition to hair/makeup/wig styling, also owns Madison’s Wild Birds Unlimited with her husband. And she explained to us, the wigs you see below are a special variety, made of human hair and they have a very fine mesh around the hairline—I’d compare it to a piece of tulle—that is glued onto the head to make the wig appear like it’s actually part of the wearer. My question? What happens when the actor is allergic to the professional glue she uses?

Her response: Use an Elmer’s glue stick! It’s washable, so when in doubt, it works to apply the wigs. (These theater gurus are full of fun facts, I tell you.)


So after the makeup room, our tour came to a close…I’m more excited than every for the show tonight! Be sure to check back here on Style File, and check In the Know for Sarah’s reactions as well throughout the evening; we’ll both be in attendance and blogging at intermissions.

Thanks to the Madison Opera for this great opportunity. And to the cast, crew and directing team of “Carmen:” Break a leg!

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 29, 2010 2:45 pm

    i tink that Lion King should also be considered as one the best animated films on the market ”

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