Jesse Manley has a fresh track for your hungry ears. Photo by Amanda Tipton. There are many reasons to create music, of course. There’s the pedestrian desire for popularity, there is the vaulted idea of artistic creation, but there are also less common reasons. For Jesse Manley, one reason seems to be archeological exploration. On […]
“My advice to others aspiring to make it in the arts is to stick with it. If this is truly your life’s passion, the rewards are endless. Your professional journey might be bumpy and frustrating but it is totally worth it. Truly having a passion for your craft makes it seem less like work. This is my purpose in life.” — Eleanor Moriarty
Eleanor Moriarty ushers me into her office, and invites me to sit. “This is home,” she says happily, gesturing towards the space around her. Given that Moriarty is the Production Manager for the Wonderbound Hares and the Events Coordinator for the Performing Arts Complex at the Pinnacle Charter School in north Denver, it makes perfect sense that her office and home-away-from home is a beautiful 600 seat theatre. “I hide with my clipboard behind that red curtain during performances,” she says and points to the right side of the stage. “The audience doesn’t see me, but I’m responsible for everything that happens backstage during a show. I always have the best seat in the house.”
Moriarty is capable, friendly, passionate, and full of energy, and being on stage but hiding behind a curtain suits her just fine. She grew up in southern Wisconsin in an artistic family. She was an energetic child, and her mother, a graphic artist and political cartoonist, enrolled her in ballet classes when she was five years old. Moriarty took to it and thus began her lifelong love of the arts. Once she got to high school, she discovered that she didn’t much care for performing but loved working backstage. She began to gain experience doing production for school and local theatre groups and eventually decided to major in theatre arts management and fine arts at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. “I was in the right place at the right time,” she says, “and got many rare opportunities to step into being stage manager for shows while I was in college.” In 2008, Moriarty saw an online posting for a job in Denver that looked interesting, and sent in her resume. Garrett Ammon, Artistic Director of Wonderbound, (then Ballet Nouveau Colorado), called her right away and invited her to fly out for an interview. She has been with the company every since, and is one of Wonderbound’s longest tenured staff members.
Moriarty is the communications hub for everything that happens on and off stage, before, during, and after a performance. She works closely with the rest of the Production Team, including Ammon, Dawn Fay (Production Director), Seth Walter (Technical Director), and Rachael Kras (Costume Designer) to make sure that everything goes as planned during each show. Moriarty’s job includes scheduling tech rehearsals and performances, communicating with the venue, liaising with the dancers, coordinating with musicians, procuring and managing props, rehearsing light and sound cues, debriefing production staff after a show, and keeping copious notes about every single thing that happens during the production process. Moriarty says, cheerfully “I do a lot of spreadsheets!” Stage production is both challenging and rewarding. “I have to keep calm and flexible during a show,” she reports, “especially if things go wrong”. It is her job to carefully document each production and document every detail. Her notes and files come in handy when Wonderbound recreates a piece performed during a previous season. She says, “I pull out my files. I’ve been there for each performance and have all the history about what we did and how we produced it.” The company will stage Rock Ballets for the third time in 2016, for example, and this production will be the first with live music. Moriarty’s files and spreadsheets help the company to repeat and build upon their past experiences.
One of the more challenging aspects of Moriarty’s job is implementing Ammon’s innovative visions for sets, costumes, and staging. “His job is to dream and dream big. We have to be realistic, but 95% of the time, we can figure it out,” she says. “Garrett likes to use objects in unusual ways, and we end up creating a lot of stuff from scratch.” Moriarty and Walter have designed and made custom chairs, doors, and sofas that can withstand being regularly moved around stage, danced upon, or flipped upside down. All of the props and custom built stage furniture are stored for use in future productions. “Garrett likes flashlights and cell phones, so we keep a giant box of them on hand,” Moriarty reports.
Moriarty wears many hats, and her role as Events Manager for the theatre at the Performing Arts Complex (PAC) takes up much of her day. In an innovative service-for-service partnership between Wonderbound and the Pinnacle Charter School (PCS), the dance company donates Moriarty’s time in exchange for use of the theatre space. The PAC is used by PCS and by Wonderbound, and is also available for rent by third party professional performing arts organizations. It is Moriarty’s job to schedule and coordinate with a wide variety of companies. About 30 groups rent the PAC theatre each year, and Moriarty says the theatre is used almost every weekend. “We tend to be focused on dance since there is a shortage of good dance venues in Denver,” she says, “I’m booking the space up to four years in advance.” Moriarty also plays a big role in coordinating Wonderbound’s extensive educational programs. She coordinates the in-school program; targeted at Title I schools, this program provides more than 2,000 children each year with a live theatre experience. Also, Moriarity and Walter oversee a professional technical theatre internship program to teach Pinnacle High School students the crafts of stage lighting, sound, rigging, and theatre maintenance.
The job of a production manager is multi-faceted and very, very busy. And often full of surprises. Moriarty had a full day ahead of her after finishing this interview. “I’m very customer service oriented and every day is completely different. There is always something exciting going on. This morning, we have a PCS assembly to teach kids about using iPads, then I have to run sound and microphone checks for an upcoming show, and then do a lot of paperwork and scheduling. Oh, and I have to locate a 3 foot disco ball.”