John “JP” Woodey knows that when Chautauquans watch a Chautauqua Opera Company performance, they aren’t usually thinking about what’s happening behind the scenes. That’s how he knows he’s done a good job.
“The way I look at it, if they’re noticing what the technicians are doing during the actual performance, then there’s something that’s not quite right,” said Woodey, Chautauqua Opera’s technical director. “During the show, patrons should be enjoying the show.”
Woodey has been working with Chautauqua Opera for more than 10 years, the last three of them as technical director. This week he will join General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood for Chautauqua Opera’s Behind-the-Scenes Series: Technical Direction. The event will air at noon EDT Thursday, Aug. 6, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.
Woodey started at Chautauqua Opera in 2007 as an assistant lighting designer; four years later he returned and has been with the company ever since. He was part of the team that helped design the preparatory lighting plot for the Amphitheater when it was renovated in 2016.
As the technical director, Woodey is in charge of executing the director and designers’ visions for scenery, lighting, sound, props and more.
“I’m responsible for anything that an artist has to touch, deal with, walk on or be around onstage and backstage,” he said. “I’m in charge of the execution of what goes on that stage in a non-director, non-aesthetic-deciding (capacity).”
Each year he is responsible for looking at the upcoming season and creating a plan that will balance the company’s time and financial constraints with its artistic vision.
“We have a finite amount of money and we have a finite amount of time, (but) we want to have the best quality (production) as well,” Woodey said. “The old phrase is, ‘Pick two.’ So, the challenge I have is trying to figure out how it’s going to work as a whole and not shortchange one area or another.”
He and his crew typically arrive at the Institution in early June, or “Week Minus Three” as he calls it, to start building scenery.
“We hit the ground running,” Woodey said, “because three, four, five weeks later, we have to have the sets practically done.”
While Norton Hall can be a challenge to build for, due to the theater’s small size, performances in the Amp are another beast altogether.
For last year’s performance of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, Woodey and his crew built an extensive set that could be loaded into a truck, driven to the Amp and assembled in an hour or less.
“What the patrons in the house see are, of course, the performers on stage using those set pieces,” he said. “What (they) don’t see is the choreography of the stagehands putting all this stuff together.”
Due to the limited availability of the space, tech rehearsals in the Amp typically start at 9 p.m., and sometimes run into the next morning.
“We’ve had occasions where, as were leaving, the Amp sweepers were coming in to (open) the building,” Woodey said. “The building never goes dark.”
While he isn’t expecting a standing ovation for his work, Woodey hopes Chautauquans will leave the Behind-the-Scenes Series with a better understanding of the many moving parts that go into putting on a production at Chautauqua Opera.
“I just want to make the audience aware that what they see onstage is not the only thing out there,” he said. “Take a look at the program — see who all’s been working hard and putting all this together.”