Monthly Archives: August 2016

By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

For the staff, volunteers and crew at Strings, these past eight weeks have been like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in The Wind in the Willows—our own musical escapade to “nowhere in particular.” But as the Strings Music Festival summer season winds down, many things in the pavilion are depleted: hospitality stocks of water and trail mix, every single Sharpie marker, microphone batteries and much of this stage manager’s energy and brain capacity.

Live music venue Steamboat Springs Strings Music Pavilion

I have come to understand that there is a natural progression for any season-oriented undertaking:

  • Game On—fully stocked and raring to go
  • Oops, Oh Yeah—early season overconfidence, relearning last season’s forgotten lessons
  • The Groove—mid-season smooth sailing, stuff is getting done, people are getting along
  • We Can Do This—final stretch re-energizing, psyche up for the finish, buy more Band-Aids
  • It’s Not Over Yet?—bleary-eyed-ness and inability to form complete sentences even though there’s work yet to be done

Personally, I am smack-dab in the middle of the final stage, so the remainder of this column will be about me counting things and forgetting to put in proper punctuation (with apologies to the Pilot’s copyeditors for the extra work).

A distillation of Strings’ 29th summer season:

  • 12,815 Audience members
  • 107 Classical musicians
  • 95 Hours of classical rehearsal
  • 79 Community volunteers
  • 60 Pots of (terrible) coffee
  • 46 Guild members
  • 45 Different Tempo artists
  • 30 Performances at the pavilion
  • 8 Free shows at the Botanic Park
  • 4 Rolls of black gaff tape
  • 1 Hard-working technical crew and management team

And finally,

  • ∞ music stand and orchestra chair moves

Our crazy, eight-week musical adventure has brought us from Clint Black to Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush to Tommy Emmanuel and all the way to Vienna in 1800. And now, we exit the summer season ride a little breathless, somewhat windblown and ready to prop our slippered feet up on the fender and proclaim it a jolly good time indeed.


Upcoming fall/winter events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and


Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at

Posted on August 12, 2016
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

I often write about performing artists and their quirks in this column, giving short shrift to my black-clad stagehand colleagues who are the heavy lifters, the gaff-tapers, the fix-it-quick-ers and the small gods of all things technical.

So I set out to write a column about the history of stagehands, going back to Greek theatre (700 BC) and Roman theatre (4th century). But what I discovered was…nothing. I admit that my research is done online in three hour chunks of classical rehearsal time and is regularly interrupted by necessary rehearsal tasks. But, still…nothing?

It wasn’t until I moved into 14th century Japan and the start of the Noh theatre tradition that I started to find written details about stagehands. It’s clear that the Greeks and the Romans had them—based on stage directions written into surviving scripts, the layout of theatre ruins and the undeniable fact that performer egos are performer egos no matter what century they inhabit—but stagehand contributions from those periods are lost to time. Or at least, they’re lost to this stage manager’s quick perusal of the internet during a rehearsal break.

Stage attendants for Japanese Noh theatre are called “koken,” even to this day. The running crew for Japanese Kabuki theatre are “kuroko.” In these traditional art forms—which date back to the 14th and 17th centuries—the koken and kuroko appear onstage, wearing black, to move scenery and props during a performance, much like today’s western stagehands. Their black clothing signaled to the audience that they were not part of the action of the performance, that they were not to be noticed. During a Kabuki performance, kuroko might become scenery themselves—by stretching a piece of fabric to become a wall or the sea, or holding a mask to represent an animal or another natural element.

Western theatre lore says that theatrical rigging for backdrops and scenery pieces in Elizabethan times came from ship rigging, and that the 16th century stagehand was probably a sailor working a second job. While that idea might be apocryphal, I like the thought that when sailors were in port between sailing gigs, they might get work as theatre technicians.


In the 17th century, western opera took the idea of the not-to-be-seen stagehand and expanded it to fit opera’s more-is-more grandeur with the supernumerary. A supernumerary is a non-speaking, non-singing role intended to fill out the stage with people during crowd scenes. Unlike their Japanese stagehand cousins, opera supers are actors and appear in costume, not in black, because they’re intended to be part of the scene. Although their larger purpose is to create stage tableaux during the performance, supers are often called on to move furniture and props during the singing action onstage.

Strings has a small technical crew—a lighting designer, a lead audio engineer, an assistant audio engineer and a stage manager. For classical recordings, we also have a recording engineer. For Different Tempo shows, our production director joins in the heavy lifting. In a larger venue, each of these positions would be managing multiple team members, designing systems and directing the action of a department. At Strings, each of us is a get-your-hands-dirty worker as well as the brains behind our individual specialties onstage. What that means for me is that, in addition to being the stage manager, I am also the sole classical concert stagehand, regularly seen onstage (wearing black) moving chairs and stands.

My excellent colleagues happily jump in to help me when there’s more to move than I can manage, leaving their lighting and soundboard brain work behind to become piano-moving or harpsichord-shifting muscle. Theatre technicians can be a territorial lot (some crews act like they’re still crotchety Elizabethan pirates on second jobs), making cross-departmental cooperation a thing to be celebrated. So, even though stagehands have been avoiding the limelight for centuries, I’d like to put the spotlight on the stage crew at Strings for some well-deserved kudos.

Thanks, guys. You’re the best—I couldn’t do this without you.


Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and


Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at


Posted on August 8, 2016
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

I move a lot of chairs and music stands around the Strings Music Pavilion these days, usually in the service of setting up or striking an orchestra. Luckily for me, hundreds of years of music history provide a road map for my organizational and logistical efforts. A western orchestra is made up of four sections, or families—strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion—and the location of each instrument onstage is pretty standard.

Strings: instruments that make sound from strings that are plucked (guitar, harp), bowed (violin) or struck (dulcimer, piano).

Woodwinds: instruments that make sound by having air blown into them, either across an edge (flute), through a reed (clarinet, saxophone), or between two reeds (bassoon.)

Brass: instruments that make sound by vibrating air through the lips into a mouthpiece. They may or may not be made out of metal.


Percussion: instruments that make sound by being hit, shaken, scratched or rubbed.

Notice that these families have nothing to do with what the instrument is made from, and everything to do with how each group produces sound. Flutes and saxophones are both made of metal, but they belong to the woodwind family, not the brass, because they don’t use the lip vibration method to make sound. It could certainly be argued that brass instruments and woodwinds are cousins, since they both produce sound with air. But the method of producing the sound and the resulting timbre of the sound are so different between the groups that they’re categorized as separate families.

It can also be argued that, instead of being a string instrument, the piano belongs to the percussion family because it produces sound by hammers hitting the strings. In fact, after (admittedly brief) research online, it seems that the question of which family can claim the piano is an ongoing argument among people who care about such things. For my purposes, which consist solely of “where do I put this onstage?”, the piano is a string instrument and sits behind the violins in orchestra setup.

(Unless the orchestra is playing a piano concerto, and then the piano sits front and center in the solo position. Let’s not even mention the logistical nightmare that happens when the piano has a starring role in one piece, but has to move to its modest rear position for another piece in the same program. I’m so grateful that Strings’ pianos have wheels…)

Orchestra configurations can differ, depending on the instrumentation and the conductor’s preferences, but in general, the families are grouped together and set up from stage right to stage left like this: first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, basses behind cellos. Woodwinds are grouped together mid-stage, right behind the violas. Brass are usually in a row behind the winds, but occasionally they get grouped over by the basses if space is tight. Percussion goes behind everybody. Because the Strings stage is relatively shallow, I tend to set up timpani at stage left rear, behind the basses, and percussion at stage right rear, behind the violins.

At their kids’ performances, C Street Brass makes a reasonable-sounding trumpet onstage using just a piece of rubber tube and a plastic funnel. And just to prove that instrument families are about sound production method and not materials, if funnel-tubing guy shows up to play an orchestra concert, I’ll give him a seat in the brass section.


Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and


Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at


Posted on August 1, 2016
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