Technically Art

JAHC to offer free workshops on backstage production this weekend

This weekend, the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council will highlight an aspect of the performing arts that doesn’t get much attention: what goes on backstage. As anyone who’s participated in a concert, play or performance knows, what the audience sees is the tip of the iceberg in terms of hours logged and individuals involved. From major elements such as the lights to minor but important details such as the cash box, this weekend’s workshops will offer a crash course in the technical and practical aspects of putting on a large public event in Juneau.


The workshops, led by local experts, are all free, and represent a partnership between the JAHC, Perseverance Theatre and Community Schools. They will be offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Juneau Douglas High School and at Perseverance Theatre.

JAHC Executive Director Nancy DeCherney said the workshops were scheduled to address a pressing need for backstage workers and other volunteers – not just for the JAHC, but for other arts groups including Juneau Jazz & Classics and Perseverance Theater. The need for stage managers is particularly dire, she said.

“I think (Kathleen Harper) is the only stage manager in town,” she said.

Other jobs, such as stage crew, are also in high demand, partly due to the cancellation of a Juneau Douglas High School class that offered training for students. JAHC program director Kari Groven said it can be hard to find experienced crew in a city as small as Juneau.

“I think in a larger community you can get people who are already trained in these various functions more easily, but in small communities like Juneau -- and most communities in Alaska -- you have to grow your own.”

A grant the JAHC received three years ago for volunteer training will be used to defray the costs of the workshops, and instructors – including Perseverance’s Art Rotch and JDHS’s Bo Anderson — are volunteering their time.

For participants, Groven said the workshops are a great opportunity to learn some valuable skills.

“Some of these things — how to produce events, how to do lighting design, how to be a stage manger— those are things that people pay a lot of money to learn. This is just a one weekend workshop but still, we’ve got top notch people to teach it.”

The workshops are suitable for beginners as well as those who have experience in production work, Groven said. And people who have extensive experience in a particular area are encouraged to come share their knowledge with the group.

“We invite people who are veterans — people who know everything about it, who have been volunteering for all the arts groups — because they will have really valuable information to contribute.”

Areas covered in the workshops include stage management, stage crew, lighting, event planning and house management.

Kathleen Harper, production manager at Perseverance Theatre, will lead the sessions on stage management. Session one, offered twice, will give participants a general overview and session two, offered three times, will go into more depth.

For many people, the first step is learning what a stage manager actually does. DeCherney compared the role to that of a general contractor, someone who keeps track of all the moving parts of a stage production, including blocking (performers’ positions on stage), entrances and exits, and how those positions coordinate with changes in lighting, music and other elements.

“It’s the glue that keeps everything together,” Groven said. “I think a lot of people who produce events that could use a stage manger don’t really know that something like this exists in the first place.”

Bo Anderson, auditorium manager at Juneau Douglas High School, will lead two different workshops on the fundamentals of being on a stage crew, another area of need in town. The first, offered three times, is an orientation to the JDHS auditorium, and the second, offered twice, focuses on gear. He’ll also discuss the crew’s response in the case of an emergency.

Those who take Anderson’s workshops will leave with the ability to sign up as an approved back stage crew person for the JAHC and other arts groups’ events.

Art Rotch, artistic director of Perseverance Theatre. will present a three part workshop on the specifics of lighting design, a field that is one of his areas of expertise in the theater world.

Called “Lighting for anybody,” the workshops are offered not just for lighting designers and technicians, but for artistic collaborators such as directors, actors and anyone else involved in the performing arts. Though the three sessions are consecutive, they can be taken singly; artistic collaborators might be particularly interested in sessions one and two, which focus on formulating and executing a design, while those interested in the technical aspects of lighting might want to take sessions two and three, which are more hands-on.

DeCherney and Groven, who with the rest of the JAHC staff produce some major community events such as the annual Wearable Art show, will also be leading their own workshops. The first is “Event Producing 101” (informal name: “So you think you’d like to have a concert?”), which will be offered one time only on Saturday.

DeCherney said in watching people set up for events at the JACC, right outside her office, she’s noticed a few areas of need.

“I would have to say, and I mean this kindly, sitting in this building, there’s a lot of people that could use a little help,” she said with a laugh. “They have great ideas but getting from the idea place to a successful event space is not real clear for a lot of people — and it isn’t always clear to us.”

The workshop will provide an outline of things to cover – lighting, furniture, decorations, duration, number of people, alcohol and food services, marketing, budget, etc — breaking the process into pieces, and then offering suggestions for handling each one.

”There are definitely some elements that are involved with most concert productions, most theater productions, even most weddings.” Groven said. “We can’t go into too much detail but a lot of people just don’t know even what the headlines are.”

Groven and DeCherney will also lead a “House Manager’s How-to” on Saturday afternoon. A house manger oversees all the volunteers working in the “front of the house,” (ticket sales, concessions, etc.) acting as a supervisor of the production staff, DeCherney said, while keeping an eye on what’s going on back stage so that the event flows smoothly.

The house manager workshop will be followed by a five-part series in the nuts and bolts of event volunteering, and will include sessions on ushering, ticket taking, selling concessions and box office sales. Participants can sign up for them singly or take them all.

Sign up for any workshop online through

The JAHC is planning to offer a second round of the workshops this winter, possibly at Thunder Mountain High School, to give participants an overview of both auditoriums. The winter session may also include sound training, led by Studio A’s Betsy Sims. Like Harper, Sims is in high demand as a sound technician, as she is one of the only people in town who fulfills this role on a regular basis.

If all goes well, DeCherney said the workshops could be something the JAHC offers to other communities around the state.

Also coming up: the JAHC will host a Grantsmanship Training Program Aug 12-16 at the JACC. This workshop has been offered in various locations throughout the state in years past — DeCherney and Groven took it when it came through town in 2009 — and DeCherney said it’s a good training for those who are seriously involved in he nonprofit world. The five day workshop covers all aspects of grant development, from finding funders to writing proposals. Enrollment is limited to 30 participants.

The workshop cost is $895, and some scholarships are available.

To register, call The Grantsmanship Center at (800) 421-9512 or (213) 482-9860, or enroll online at




Volunteer training with Nancy DeCherney and Kari Groven, JDHS Classroom.

Session One: The Event Volunteer’s Guide to Good Practices Saturday, 2:10-2:40 p.m.

Session Two: Spotlight on ushering and ticket taking, Saturday, 2:40-3:10 p.m.

Session Three: Spotlight on the Back of House, Saturday, 3:10-3:40 p.m.

Session Four: Spotlight on Selling Concessions, Saturday, 3:50-4:20 p.m.

Session Five: Spotlight on the Box Office, Saturday, 4:20-5:20 p.m.



Stage Crew Fundamentals with Bo Anderson, JDHS Auditorium.

Session One: JDHS theatre facility orientation, Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., or Saturday, 9-11 a.m., or Sunday, 10-11:30 a.m.

Session Two: Getting to know your Gear, Saturday, Aug. 10, 11:10 a.m.-1:10 p.m. or Saturday, 4-6 p.m.,


Lighting for anybody! with Art Rotch

Session One: Conceptual Fundamentals of Lighting Design, Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Perseverance Theatre.

Session 2: Design Development for the Lighting Designer, Saturday, 1:40-3:40 p.m., Perseverance Theatre.

Session 3: Realizing the Design in the theatre, Sunday, 12-2 p.m., JDHS.



Event Producing 101 with Nancy DeCherney and Kari Groven, JDHS Classroom. Saturday, 11:10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.


Production/Stage/Event Management with Kathleen Harper, JDHS Classroom.

Session one: General Overview, Saturday, 9 -11 a.m. or Saturday, 1:40-3:40 p.m.,

Session Two: Nuts and Bolts, Saturday, 11:10 a.m.-1:10 p.m., or Saturday, 4-6 p.m. or Sunday, 12-2 p.m.


House Manager’s How-to with Nancy DeCherney and Kari Groven, JDHS Classroom. Saturday, 1 – 2 p.m.


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