Welcome back, TheatrePeople!
Today I'm excited to introduce you to Allison Emmerich, an event planner in New York who loves to 'entertain and delight' through her craft. You'll feel her passion in each of her answers in this interview, and I sincerely hope you love getting to know her as much as I have. Have a fantastic day!
What’s a show that inspires you? (explain away!)
I really feel inspired by Come From Away. Leading with love is a core principle of my life and the people of this story—the real life people—knew what it was to be kind and truly love others. I can’t even put into words how beautiful kindness is and Come From Away was purely magical in retelling this true story of community selflessness. Plus, the production itself just lands right in your soul!
What’s one of your happiest moments in theatre/ballet?
I consider myself an enabler…in the roles I proudly hold in the industry, I am always so happy to think that I get to enable magic. As an enabler, I know how important the full team is. One of my happiest moments was the first time I held the position of Director of Production. The project was the largest project I had ever worked on. It took place over about 10 days with several different venues and many different events. I surrounded myself with the best teammates possible.
For one of the events of this project, there was to be very specific video content. This element seemed set up for failure from the very beginning but the creative producer was set on it happening. Since the video was timed with the performers’ actions, it was crucial to the success of the event. Tech time was impossibly limited… truly impossible. We had only a couple hours of tech for this very complicated piece that, realistically, should have had at least a full day to tech, outside of load-in. The video engineer and one of the video designers worked tirelessly, staying up all night before the event, although I tried everything in my power to prevent this from happening. I recognized the expertise the video engineer brought to the table and stepped back to allow them to do their work, providing support however I could while continuing to prepare the other needs of this production and the other upcoming productions. Unbeknownst to me, the two of them determined on their own that they would work until they were done to ensure a successful event the next day.
Everyone else on the team stepped up and did their job perfectly, knowing that the video department needed extra support and time. I’m not sure that I breathed at all during that 85 minute show. But the show went off flawlessly and the video was unlike anything I had ever seen! It blew my mind! The owner of the company came storming backstage after the show and I was completely prepared for her to have found major flaws in the show that I could not see from backstage right. Instead she walked right up to me and said, “You are a power woman.” She commented on the fact that she had no idea how my team pulled it off. She was incredibly skeptical leading up to the show and really thought that it was going to be a train wreck. I was so proud of the entire team. I felt honored to have been their leader in making the impossible possible. The key, I realized, is that in being a great leader, you must enable your team, trust them, and have their backs at all times. I’d be completely amiss if I didn’t highlight and credit our amazing video engineer/ supervisor, Frederic Boulay, though. He’s the one who really made the magic happen by somehow pulling off a near-impossible 11th hour ask.
What’s the biggest ‘fail’ or goof you’ve seen on stage? (do tell the story)
Hmmmm. I mean, fails really are what you make them. In live events, things won’t go perfectly all the time. There’s going to be “fails”—it’s all about how you recover. I’ve seen cherry picker style lifts fall with someone in the basket, I’ve seen so many poorly executed cues, I’ve seen countless lines flubbed, I’ve seen the town go into a complete power outage, so many “fails” some of which were preventable and some of which were not.
The ones that are the worst, are, by far, the ones that should have been prevented. I think two of the most impactful fails I’ve experienced first hand demonstrate both ends of the spectrum. Once, when I was the calling stage manager on the musical Into the Woods, I began Act II without my “actors to places, please” call. I was very young in my career (as in I was about midway through undergrad) and it wasn’t yet habitual. I checked with the orchestra, made sure all of my run crew were in place and put the board ops in standby. I neglected to get confirmation from my deck managers and ASMs to confirm they had actors in place and none of them mentioned it prior to my calls beginning. The orchestra started and the curtain rose and there were no actors onstage. I’ll never ever forget the conductor turning his head around and looking at me with questioning dagger-eyes that said “Where are the performers?!” One by one, the actors entered the stage as if it was their blocking. It was opening night. Luckily everyone just went with it. I’m not sure that the audience really noticed anything off. It was about 15 years ago now and I’ve never made a mistake like that since.
Another example that did not prove to be as smooth was a very important ballet gala. The calling stage manager (not me!) called a blackout right as a prominent ballerina was being lifted into the air above her partner’s head. Not only was it dangerous but it was a major faux pas. The stage manager did not bring lights up to finish out the piece but left us all in the dark. The ballerina stormed off the stage absolutely enraged! It was a horrible thing to witness.
Why do you love theatre/ballet?
I love the live performing arts. I find that my career has allowed me to not only work in theatre and ballet, but really broadened my scope into the greater world of events. My specialty now is in large-scale that have performance or entertainment components, or events that performing arts companies put on such as galas, one-night only events, festivals, etc. I also have found a little niche in managing the weddings of performing arts pros. It’s great because we speak the same language. Performing arts professionals have a high expectation for their wedding, it’s truly the opening night to their marriage. I love getting to make that happen for them! At the end of the day, though, the thing I love the most about theatre, ballet, and live entertainment events is that we create magic right in front of the audience. The excitement and other emotions that the performers and the audience are feeling is literally tangible. There is no other field that makes magic possible quite like this.
Theatre is for...
The word enchantment kind of sums up the magic of theatre. If we look at the actual definitions, something that’s enchanted involves delighting to a high degree and imparting a magical quality or effect to something or someone. That’s what theatre is. It’s an escape from your problems by entertaining or delighting you and it also builds community by drawing people in or imparting that magical quality on you.
More Incredible Theatre People!
More from Allison
Allison Emmerich (she/her/hers) has spent the last decade and a half managing performances and events. She loves working in this industry because of the real-life component of bringing people together. She prides herself on being a problem solving professional with a people-first mentality. Her company, Emmerich Events, focuses on supporting the Performing Arts Industry and has just created a Stage Management Subscription Box that she is super excited about! (sign up to get an exclusive discount when the box launches in April!) In addition to Emmerich Events, Allison runs a small jewelry business with her sister (Treeline Sisters) and serves as the SEPA Regional Director and Regional Board Chair for Odyssey of the Mind. She also manages the Glicker-Milstein Theatre of Barnard College as the Program Director for Arts Education where she advises Columbia University and Barnard College undergraduate arts clubs and organizations. When she is not working in the field, she can be typically be found training for a half marathon, relaxing on her paddleboard, or snuggling with her cat, Gelly (it sounds like Jelly and is short for Giselle...in case you were wondering).
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