Women in Production - Boston Ballet

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Behind the Curtain


Stage Manager Heather Olcott

Photo by Deborah Moe

In honor of Women’s History Month, it’s “lights up” on the talented women who work backstage on Boston Ballet’s productions.

Deck Electrician Lauren Scattolini hanging lights

Photo by Deborah Moe

Deck Electrician Lauren Scattolini

Photo by Deborah Moe

Women fill a variety of important roles in the arts—not just on stage, but also behind the scenes. Step backstage and discover what it’s like to work in theatrical production, plus hear career advice from three women who aren’t afraid to run the show.


Describe your career trajectory. How did you start working as a Stage Manager?
I was a Dance major at Point Park University when I was assigned to crew one of the shows. It was during that experience that I learned what a Stage Manager does and immediately became intrigued! I was able to add a Stage Management minor and began soaking up as much information and experience as I could get. By the time I graduated college, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in Stage Management as opposed to performing.

Explain your role with Boston Ballet. What does a “day in the life” look like?
The Stage Management team facilitates communication across technical and artistic departments, supports and organizes the day-to-day running of a production from rehearsals through performances and post-show, and calls all technical cues during a performance. Each day varies based on the schedule, which keeps day-to-day interesting! When the Company is in rehearsal at the studio, we are here to support their needs based on what is being rehearsed, as well as prepping paperwork and details for the upcoming performances. When the Company is at the Opera House, one of us calls all technical cues for the technical rehearsals and performance while the rest of the team manages keeping people safe backstage.

What project are you most proud of?
Most recently, I am proud of CHOREOGRAPHER! The team let me take the lead on that program, which felt fitting as a woman, and was exciting as my first full program to call with the Company. It’s not often you get to work on five world premieres in one program!

What challenges have you faced while working in this field?
At previous organizations, as a woman backstage, one of the biggest challenges was that women were often still not given the respect of an unbiased introduction in this field. I’ve had the opportunity to tour a lot of the country and in many plac​es, it was never assumed that I was in charge. It was a frequent occurrence that a male colleague was approached for information because it was assumed he was the lead based on gender. In some countries, the crew would not take directions from a woman, regardless of her title. I’ve witnessed women, including myself, receive less respect because of their gender. We’re taught to have a thick skin and to not take it personally, but what if we were simply respected in our positions from the start?

Do you have any dream projects you’ve always wanted to work on, or artists you’re looking forward to collaborating with?
One of the many things I love about Boston Ballet is the variety of the repertoire: classical, neo-classical, new works, story ballets, contemporary ballets, and more! I love the mixed repertoire programs and am looking forward to this spring’s performances of Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura and William Forsythe’s ballets, to name a few. The only story ballet I had worked on prior to Boston Ballet was The Nutcracker, so I am excited to work on more story ballets as well.

Who inspires you?
KRISTIN COLVIN YOUNG, the Production Stage Manager of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I had the opportunity to shadow her for a show when I was a senior in college, and since then she has been an inspiration, a mentor, and a friend.

INGRID SILVA, who in my eyes is a superwoman. She is a dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, she started the organization EMPOWHER NEW YORK, she’s a mother, mentor, and so much more! Her work ethic, determination, and kindness never cease to inspire me.

What is your message for other women wanting to get into backstage work for theatrical productions?
The answer is automatically “no” if you don’t ask the question. So don’t be afraid to ask, because there is a chance the answer will be “yes.” Also, ask questions and ask for help if you don’t know something. Oftentimes people think asking questions makes them seem weak, when it actually shows a level of awareness, insightfulness, and good listening skills.


How did you get into lighting theatrical productions?
When I went to college, I knew I wanted to work in the technical side of the theater, but I honestly wasn’t sure which part. My first semester of freshman year I took a lighting class; we had to do practical hours, and my first time in a genie lift I was both incredibly terrified and incredibly hooked. I just became more hooked as I learned about the technology involved.

Oh, and the fact that my lighting professor told me I’d never make it in this industry just made me more stubborn about my path.

After college I landed as a Journeyman (not quite an intern but not quite a full staff member) at Actors Theater of Louisville. I worked my way up over the next five years to Assistant Lighting Supervisor. The skills I learned there about light console programming and being a Master Electrician (the person who works with the designer to realize their vision in a practical way) really helped me once I moved to Boston. At the time, the lighting console I had learned in Louisville was still fairly new and not many people knew how to use it, so I became valuable as a freelancer very quickly. From there I ended up working as a Master Electrician at several local theater companies before I came to Boston Ballet.

Explain your role as a Deck Electrician. What does a “day in the life” look like?
Anything that happens on stage (the “deck”) that involves lights or cable is my domain. Changing colors in lights, operating practicals (things like chandeliers or lights mounted in the set, such as the light bulbs on the Nutcracker palace backdrop), sometimes even flying booms (the large lighting towers) in order to accommodate scenic transitions, are all examples of things that happen during shows. For larger shows like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, I have a crew of electricians, and it is my job to assign tasks and make sure everyone is where they need to be to cover all aspects of any deck changes. I also deal with any atmospherics like fog or haze that happen during the show. That cannon fog during the Drosselmeier scene in The Nutcracker? That’s me sitting behind the set with my hand on the button. All those swans emerging out of the fog in Swan Lake? It’s my job to ensure that the foggers are working. Luckily, I have a crew to help since we run four dry-ice foggers simultaneously!

Honestly, one of my favorite aspects of my job is that I have no typical day! When we’re not at the Opera House, I am at the electrics shop preparing our next show, hanging moving lights for testing and labeling cables. On load-in days I am on the deck helping hang lights before I go up to my other domain: 35 feet above stage left to hook up all our power cables, and then going even farther up to the grid to run power to stage right.

But show days are my favorite. We come in and check to make sure all the lights work. On a good day, everything is fine! On a less good day, I may have to scamper up that 35-foot ladder on stage left to release cable so a problem light can be lowered and fixed. After that, I get the stage ready for the top of show. What is required next depends on the show; anything from color changes to setting rovers (lights on a rolling stand) to turning on hazers or flying booms or…. the list goes on! Each ballet is different, and each has its quirks that I have to work out and ensure all transitions are smooth.

Are there specific types of projects you really enjoy?
I love projects that let me play with new technology, or really any kind of gear that I’ve never had the opportunity to use before.

What is your message for other women wanting to get into backstage work for theatrical productions?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you are “too anything” for this job. You are not “too weak,” “too quiet,” “too loud,” or too anything else. I believe any of those negative comments can be turned into strengths. If nothing else, it gives you the determination to get better! And if you find yourself working with knowledgeable people, ask questions. Never be afraid of not knowing something: the skills and knowledge you can pick up this way are invaluable.

Assistant Carpenter/Flyman Devin Higgins

Photo by Deborah Moe


Describe your career trajectory. How did you start working backstage for theatrical productions?
I’m a third-generation stagehand, so I’ve been in and around the theater since before I can remember. I’m sure it came as a surprise to no one when I signed up with Boston’s local chapter of I.A.T.S.E. (the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees) as soon as I was old enough to begin my formal training on all things backstage. I got my start at Boston Ballet through the union as an extra hand in the scenic shop, loading and unloading trucks and making repairs to set pieces as needed. From there, I was hired by production as the third Assistant Carpenter for The Nutcracker, my first role as part of the team that brings the show to the theater, sets it up, and runs it for an audience. Now, I’m the first Assistant Carpenter/Flyman for all productions at the Ballet.

Explain your role with Boston Ballet. What does a “day in the life” look like?
One of the things I love most about my job is that no two days are ever alike. The circumstances are always changing, and it is our job as the backstage crew to adapt to those changes as they come and maintain consistency within the show, regardless of the chaos around us.

That being said, my responsibilities start and end at the scenic shop. There, the Carpenters pull out all of the scenic elements of a show and make sure everything is accounted for and show-ready before loading everything into theater-bound trucks in a precise order to ensure a smooth load-in. At the theater, we unload all of the hampers full of muslin, some black fabric, a box (or 10) of nuts and bolts, and carts full of wood that’s been cut, painted, and mounted to metal frames.

We hang and assemble these parts to transform an empty stage into a magical land in the clouds, or an enchanted forest, or an underwater seascape. Whatever our artistic staff imagines, we arrange these scenic elements to create something illusory on stage which has the power to transport the audience to that setting where our story unfolds.

During the shows, we run all of the scene changes that provide context to the story and keep it moving. Finally, after the last curtain call, we take down the show, pack it back up, and send it home to the shop, where we start the process over again with the next show.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your line of work?
For me, it’s all about the show and nailing a live cue. On the fly rail we have 75 ropes, which are a part of an elaborate counterweight pulley system, each of which may be attached to a particular piece of the set. The Flymen are able to move pieces of the set into or out of view of the audience by pulling the ropes.

As the Ballet’s Flyman, during the show it is my job to make sure everyone working on the fly rail pulls the correct rope, at the correct time, in the correct direction, at the correct speed, while ensuring the path of travel for that set piece is clear of objects and people.

A typical scene change happens in the time that it takes to throw a switch, often in the dark. And it’s got to be perfect, every single time, because there’s an audience out there watching and taking in the story as it unfolds, and they deserve the best experience we can possibly give them. Plus, when you do it right, you get applause. Who doesn’t like applause?

What is your message for other women wanting to get into backstage work for theatrical productions?
If you’re thinking about getting into backstage work… stop thinking about it, stop talking about it, stop reading about it, and put yourself out there! You won’t find what you need to succeed in this industry in any book or article or post. You just have to do it. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to do something you’ve never done before, something nobody has ever done before. Knock on every door. Take every opportunity that comes your way, even the ones that don’t pay well, even the ones that don’t pay at all.

Experience is the best teacher, so get out there and get some. Learn as much as you can, every day, and show up again tomorrow willing to learn more. Because there’s a place for you here if you’re willing to do the work and find it. It is work, a lot of work, but it is worth every second because once you find your place there’s no going back; there’s just nothing like it.

Join us in celebrating Women’s History Month with even more tributes to the talented women who have shaped Boston Ballet’s legacy, and save your seats for a spring ballet to support their contributions to the artform.

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