Someone Has To Catch Phantom's Falling Chandelier

Spoiler alert : Just in case you haven't gone to the theater in the last 20 years and have no idea of the plot, don't read further if you don't want to know what happens to the chandelier in Phantom of the Opera ...or to the actors who walk underneath it... or to the audience watching it swing out over their heads as they sit unsuspectingly in their fancy front row seats...

Sometime this morning, two local "catchers" in training will walk out on the stage of the Hobby Center and begin practicing how to intercept the chandelier in the Phantom of the Opera.

At first, they'll wind through the motions slowly, a stage crew member above them checking to make sure the cable is feeding out correctly as the chandelier heads for the stage. Then, stage crews will wind it back up again, only to bring it down faster and faster until it meets "show conditions." Catch it then -- perfectly, expertly and at the last possible moment -- and they'll be ready for opening night.

All except for one thing...

That's the strobe light that goes off in their faces right at the same time as they're supposed to catch the chandelier to keep it from crashing, says David Hansen, somewhat gleefully.

Hansen is the advance stage manager with Broadway Across America and has worked part- and full-time over the last 10 years helping it set up its shows. This is his second tour with the longest running show in Broadway history -- he says he won't go out on the road with a show he doesn't like -- and he can say, knocking on wood, that there's never been a fatal accident with the chandelier (although sometimes it hasn't lowered properly.)

Theater-goers won't notice the catchers especially, Hansen says, since all the crew that has to be on stage to move things around during the performance are dressed in costume to stay "in period." Costume and set designer Maria Bjornson has insisted on that -- if there's any chance they can be seen on stage, they are in costume, Hansen says.

There are other special behind-the-scenes preps for Phantom, as in how Broadway Across America brings in its own stage for the show. The marks that they need for the scenery are automatically in place with their own floor, not to mention the built-in spots for the 141 candles that grace the stage during the performance, Hansen says.

It took twenty 40-foot semis to carry all the stuff that Hansen and his fellow crew members unloaded and are using to fill up the Hobby Center stage. From the look of the set-up Tuesday, some of it's bright, some of it's dark, some is pretty creepy, and amongst it all, the chandelier is a sparkling centerpiece and of course, potentially deadly, set piece.

Phantom of the Opera runs July 8 through August 2 at the Hobby Center.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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