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Giving Students an Up-Close Look at Broadway

Published March 8, 2024

Giving Students an Up-Close Look at Broadway

by Dennyse Sewell

Since its inception in 1995, the Broadway Comes to Reno series has brought thousands of professional performers, designers, directors, and stage technicians to the Pioneer Center, where their world-class work has engaged and entertained northern Nevada audiences year after year. From Hamilton to CATS, The Producers to Mamma Mia, over 180 Broadway shows have graced the stage of the Pioneer Center.  Bringing these top-notch touring productions right here to the Biggest Little City means our patrons don’t necessarily need to travel to other metropolitan areas to experience the best of Broadway.

Hosting the Broadway Comes to Reno series in our historic theater also brings opportunities for deeper community impact that go beyond just an enjoyable night out. We recognize the enormous potential that comes from connecting local students with touring professionals working at the top of their field.  From inspiring future pathways to showing how large-scale productions are created, the Broadway industry is an exceptional educational resource. In October 2021, as the Pioneer Center was emerging from the pandemic and growing our education division, staff member Adam Cates (now Director of Community Engagement) met with drama teachers from several Washoe County School District high schools to learn how the Pioneer Center could better support their work. They expressed a need for getting students more interested in technical stagecraft and production design, and we jumped at the opportunity to help bridge this gap. With a little creative problem-solving given the pandemic restrictions in place at that time, we were able to gain buy-in from the Broadway touring companies for an out-of-the-box idea… and thus, the Pioneer Center’s Behind the Curtain program was launched to help meet the moment.

Load-in observation during Jesus Christ Superstar in May 2022

National Broadway tours are continuous, playing a different venue in a different city week after week.  When a show closes on a Sunday night in one city, it packs into several semi-trailers and drives along the tour route straight to the next city, where it will unload and prepare for an opening night performance on Tuesday evening. In many cases, the semi-trailers, cast, and crew arrive early Tuesday morning, giving less than 12 hours for the entire load-in process to take place. It is a test of the skill, experience, and dedication of these traveling crews that they are able to accomplish such a feat week after week, in wildly different theaters all across the country. The touring Broadway load-in process here at the Pioneer Center is fast and epic, with tight time constraints and a large number of local professional stagehands contributing skilled labor to ensure success. The schedule leaves little room for error; the main curtain must be ready to rise by 7:30pm Tuesday evening!

Q&A session with touring crew during TINA in September 2023

Through Behind the Curtain, high school and college theater students are invited to the Pioneer Center on a Broadway load-in day. They are provided a short seminar about that musical’s development before taking seats in the auditorium to observe one hour of the load-in process — from sets being constructed, to lighting and video projection focus, to sound checks, and more. Touring professionals speak with the students, answering questions about how they got where they are, the technical processes unfolding on stage, and what life is like on a major national Broadway tour. Afterward, there is a short wrap up from Pioneer Center staff and then students gain early access to discounted student rush tickets for that evening’s performance if they wish to attend.

Behind the Curtain began with Fiddler on the Roof in January 2022 — just 12 students and one educator were in attendance! Two years later, the experiences have been attended by close to 500 students and educators from Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Dayton, Incline Village, Fallon, Portola, and North Tahoe/Truckee who have observed load-ins of Jesus Christ Superstar, Hairspray, Dear Evan Hansen, Anastasia, TINA, and Mean Girls. Students in attendance have gained firsthand knowledge from Broadway touring stage managers, company managers, head carpenters, sound, video and lighting technicians, props managers, technical directors, and creative team members. They have also learned how members of IATSE Local 363, the Reno/Tahoe chapter of the national stagehand union, make full-time careers in professional theater creation right here in our region. The impact of this connection with IATSE Local 363 is already being felt; some older students have since joined the local union and now work on the Broadway productions that visit the Pioneer Center!

Workshop with cast and creative team of Anastasia in May 2023

The Pioneer Center provides Behind the Curtain load-in observations free of charge to all attendees.  The program has since grown to include opportunities for student stage managers to shadow professional Broadway stage managers backstage during a performance, as well as occasional acting workshops with cast and creative team members teaching material from the shows. Behind the Curtain would not be possible without our true partners — the incredible local theater educators who inspired the program and who organize their students, coordinate the school bus transportation, and chaperone the events. We look forward to growing our collaboration with arts educators, expanding the program further, and continuing to inspire the next generation of theater artists.

Performing arts educators interested in future experiences for their students should email to be added to our Behind the Curtain mailing list.

Dennyse Sewell is the President and CEO of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in Reno, Nevada

More from Dennyse Sewell

Inspiring the Next Generation Through the Performing Arts by Dennyse Sewell — February 2, 2024


Happy 56th Birthday, Pioneer Center! by Dennyse Sewell — December 29, 2023

The Transformative Potential of Opportunities in the Arts by Dennyse Sewell — November 17, 2023



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