Sunday, May 9, 2021

Renee Flemming was backstage. What happened here first?

Soprano Renee Fleming began singing in a flimsy long-sleeved gown in a chair.

For decades of a famous artist in his career, it may be an uneven Wednesday evening the shed, Huge display space at Hudson Yard. But after 13 months in an epidemic, the face was a sea opera star and a novel vision for the trio accompanying him.

“Wow, bravado!” She commented after finishing the noticeable opening number. “very exciting.”

Exciting, indeed – and no means to pull away.

After the shed and other flexible New York performance venues The audience lobbied to go in, It got it to open its doors for a live event on April 2, after a 38-day shutdown. Fleming’s April 21 show, before a limited audience, was the fourth performance in a co-sponsored series NY Popsup, A public-private program aimed at reviving the arts.

While the 85-minute show – a mix of classical, jazz and popular music – went off without a hitch, it demonstrated that growing indoor events in New York at this stage of the epidemic would still be time-consuming, unpredictable, and expensive.

More musicians involved dozens of hours of careful planning to get to Fleming; Hundreds of dollars in safety equipment such as plastic face shields and hand sanitizers; And about $ 2,500 in coronavirus tests. All this for a considerable reduction in ticket revenue.

And while she could have been the headliner, the show was pulled off, taking on a larger role of people behind the scenes, some of whom had not worked regularly in the building for months.

In normal times, employees can discuss last-minute program changes or ticket sales at a Prove Morning Production meeting.

On 19 April, this was when Renee Fleming underwent her rapid Kovid test.

She would come to rehearsal the next day at 1:30 in the afternoon, staff was told, and head from the sixth floor, little Kenneth C. At the Griffin Theater, where he had a dressing room. There, she will meet a medical technician, who will control nasal inflammation.

According to the health department, there will be no server to bring talented tea, coffee or food.

“We do the barest minimum,” Shed’s creator Laura Aswad said of what Fleming had seen Acted in a play during the opening season of The Shed, Will not be left completely untouched: Bottled water, tea bags and a kettle will be in her dressing room.

Alex Poots The chief executive of the shed, had a major announcement to share with the employees. The venue was not given state permission to expand the audience size. In the days leading up to the concert, the shed had asked to double the capacity from 150 to 300, which would still be a fraction of McCort’s nearly 1,200 people, its largest performance space, could seat.

But the state had essentially told him: not so soon.

The concert was sold out in two hours. Members who had secured tickets to the audience had already received four emails informing them of the coronovirus protocol.

After work there was a chance to attend a concert and get down on his seat as the curtain rose. Before they enter the shed, musicians will need to examine one of three boxes: show evidence of complete vaccination; Displays a negative PCR test Taken within 72 hours of the incident; Or have taken a rapid antigen test, which is less reliable, within six hours of showtime.

It was such a mess of rules and dates that front staff were provided with printed cheat sheets for the day of the show.

guitar player Bill frisel The sheet was surrounded by heaps of music – some Hendel, some Stephen Foster – laying on the dining room table and the floor of the room in his Brooklyn home. He was writing his parts in pencil, citing a list of songs that Fleming sent him, the bassist Christian McBride, And pianist Dan Tepper.

The epidemic ban meant rehearsal in only one person before the day of the show, and Frisell was in study mode. He had also played with Fleming before – he recorded an album in 2005 – but never with Taffer or McBride.

“It adds stress levels to the event, no question,” Fleming said. “We still have a lot to figure out how we’re going to organize everything.”

As Frisell was reviewing sheet music for Cole Porter “Down in the depths (on the ninth floor),” Fleming was on East 57th Street, visiting her longtime hairstylist, Michael StincombAt the Vartali Salon.

Stincomb has been a fond fan since the 1990s and first met Fleming backstage at Carnegie Hall. She has been doing her hair for over two decades, often traveling around the world when she performs.

But last winter Fleming moved from New York to Virginia, and the epidemic prevented him from moving to Stinkcomb until a day before the shed demonstration.

“She was very happy to come in,” Stinecomb said. “She is a woman who likes to look good.”

Later that afternoon, Fleming arrived at the shed for a three-hour rehearsal, where he and the musicians discussed the cohesion, tempo, and spot for improvisational solos.

“A full rehearsal before a show?” McBride said. “It’s a lot in the jazz world.”

Jose Rivera indicated the space between the two groups of seats. “From here to here, it’s 6-foot 4,” he announced, bending over to measure his yellow tape. “From here to here is 6 foot 1.”

It made the grade: according to state regulations, the distance between audience members was to be up six feet.

He and another facility employee, Steven Quinones, were arranging chairs for some two hours, making sure the setup matched a detailed paper diagram.

“And look, this is the big corridor that people walk by, so it’s 9 feet, 5 inches,” Rivera continued, hearing his voice as the whistle of a third colleague zoomed around the room on an industrial floor scrubber.

Five floors up, Josh Fago, an operations engineer, investigated on one of the shed’s most important technologies to protect Kovid: the HVAC system. Heavy air handlers and chillers in the building’s engine room are constantly whispering as Fago has ensured the machines keep the air at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity at 50 percent was functional.

On the stage itself, the first piano notes of the day were vibrating through the air to McCourt’s 115-foot ceiling.

Stephen Erickson arrived at 11 am to tune to the magnificent Steamingway Grand Piano. While he said that his business had disappeared for the first four months of the epidemic, he is now busier than ever.

For about 30 minutes, he used a tuning wrench to ensure that the piano was ready for the concert. Later, he made the debut and starred in “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.

“It’s a bit of pure enjoyment,” he said.

Within 15 minutes of arriving at the shed, Fleming – who was scheduled for his second vaccine in New York the morning after the show – had a rapid Kovid test in his dressing room. Negative.

Later, they reunited on stage with the musicians, their instruments positioned more than six feet from each other, while an audio crew member in a mask and a face shield remained around them, ensuring that Done that everything was working properly.

According to Shed’s production manager Pope Jackson, the crew of six working on the show was slightly smaller than usual. Everywhere they went, they brought along what Jackson referred to as the “Kovid Cart”, which contained masks, gloves, hygiene supplies, and a stock of brown paper bags that the musicians’ union needed So that players can have a clean place to keep their place. Mask while performing.

Below, an employee of eight security guards rubbed his nose to make sure he tested negative.

Fleming and musicians were performing virtual and outdoor concerts throughout the epidemic, but security personnel were filled with people whose careers had grown even more.

21-year-old Alan Pestana has been unemployed for over a year, having been let go from working security at Yankee Stadium; 53-year-old Duvana Alford cut her hours at a church in Morningside Heights; Richard Reid, 33, worked as a security guard at a field hospital in Manhattan in April 2020, where he tried to forget his health fears and focused on the dangerous salaries he received.

It was the moment before a concert where the theater was alive with preparations and nerves – a bustle disappearing in the city during the first year of the epidemic.

“It’s like doing an electric slide, moonwalk and bachata together,” Jackson said minutes before showtime. “But when the light rises, it fades away.”

Front-of-the-house staff had only 20 minutes to review audience IDs and Kovid-related documents; Take their temperature; And show them to their seats.

The icy gusts of air just outside the doors were not making things easy.

But by 8:05 pm, 150 people had settled into their reclining seats, able to snap a picture of the QR code on the arms of the chairs to watch the concert program.

Between performances of the jazz classic “Donna Lee” and “Touch the Hand of Love”, Fleming once recorded with Yo-Yo Ma what the cast had been doing with their lives for the past 13 months. I spoke on stage. .

“The wish for this epidemic will be over,” McBride said.

Teffer said he was improving a technical device that made it easier for musicians to play together on the Internet – an instrument that he and Fleming had designed together virtually.

Frisell had not performed for indoor audiences since the onset of the epidemic. “It’s such a blessing,” he said.

The show ended with a permanent ovation, and then the musicians played a game: “Hard Times” by Stephen Foster, which Fleming described as a song that resonates in times of crisis.

“Tough times,” he sang, “never come again.”

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