Photo: Stage Manager Gail Reich with Technical Director Joel Mooney at Usher Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland in August 2016.
Hours before and after a Minnesota Orchestra concert, Gail Reich is hard at work moving instruments and equipment, carefully handling the Orchestra’s precious belongings along with her fellow stagehands. A stage manager with the Minnesota Orchestra since 1992, she is retiring this fall. With the recent tour to Europe in mind, we’ve talked with her about what her job is like on the road.
Touring is hard work for everyone. What does it involve for stagehands?
We travel four to six hours ahead of the musicians, on different planes or trains, and we spend many more hours at the performance venues. First we team with the facility’s own stagehands to unload two trucks and a trailer jam-packed with road cases specially built to hold the instruments. Then we set up the stage and arrange the backstage area with signs telling our musicians where to find their instruments, wardrobe trunks and dressing rooms. Each hall has its own quirks, and we troubleshoot so the musicians can focus on the music. After the concert we pack it all up again, head to the next city and repeat the process. We wish it included time for sightseeing!
No doubt weather is a factor.
So true. On a 2004 tour we arrived at our hall in Glasgow early on a Wednesday, loaded in, did the rehearsal, did the show, re-loaded the truck and drove to a small airport. It was the middle of the night before everything was moved into a very old cargo plane. We strapped ourselves into the back of the plane and took off—practically straight up into the air!—with that huge load of trunks suspended directly above us, trusting with all our might for the straps to hold. On landing in Finland we had to drive through a blizzard to get to the next concert hall, in Lahti, only to learn that the musicians were delayed by the storm. The concert started late, and by the time we finished packing everything up, it was 2 a.m. on Friday, almost 48 hours since I’d begun, with no time to sit other than on taxi rides and that scary plane ride. Exhausting, but memorable.
Does it ever feel “old hat”?
Never. The Orchestra’s tour this summer was my ninth, but no matter how often we work abroad, it’s still awe-inspiring to see these famous institutions—especially Sibelius Hall in Lahti and the Concertgebouw—and appreciate the intricate ways they function. It gives me a window on what my job would be like on the other side of the Atlantic.
There, like here, you’d be in the minority: a woman in a male-dominated field.
Yes, but it seems perfectly natural to me. I’ve worked backstage since my theater and dance days in college, doing lighting and stage managing. When I started at Orchestra Hall in 1992, I might have been the only woman stagehand at a major American orchestra, but now that’s changed. Like my colleagues, I find it very gratifying that the musicians have confidence in our ability to handle and transport their instruments— their livelihood—safely. It’s a job we take very seriously, and I’m proud to have been part of such a great team for the last 24 years.